Thing 05: Blogging your research
23 Research Things is back after a brief Easter break with a blog post on blogging: very meta…
What is academic blogging?
Blogging is becoming an important development tool for sharing research and professional insights. It can help you to incorporate reflective practice into your work, and it’s also an effective tool for sharing your research with others, making professional contacts and extending your online network and presence. Indeed, blogging tools have become so flexible and varied that what started out as a simple form of online diary (the original ‘web-log’) has spawned a diverse array of independent publishing platforms. Many websites that we wouldn’t traditionally call ‘blogs’ use blogging tools such as WordPress, and even within the specific confines of academic blogging, the style, format, appearance and purpose of blogs is as varied as the academics that write them. Even if the traditional online ‘diary’ format is not something that you feel comfortable with, there are still many ways of using blogging tools to support your research profile. The term ‘blogging’ itself is perhaps a little outdated and it might therefore be more helpful to think of a blog as a personal publishing platform, one that can help you to connect with a much broader audience. Academics who blog cover a very wide variety of topics and many use it to publish material that they might not publish in traditional formats: these include lectures, class and course outlines, thoughts about teaching or the research process, work-in-progress, highly-developed research, book reviews, or opinion pieces.
WordPress and Blogger are the two principal blogging platforms currently in use; nearly 20% of the world’s websites (blogs or otherwise) run on WordPress. Tumblr is also popular for blogs that rely primarily on images and visual media, and can be a useful online scrapbook to post thoughts, ideas, quotes and multimedia. If you’re intending to use your blog to disseminate your research and raise your research profile then consider WordPress or Blogger. WordPress is particularly effective if you’re intending to set up a collaborative blog with multiple users. It’s worth noting that there are two versions of WordPress. WordPress.com is free and your blog would be hosted by WordPress itself; there are a very large number of templates available but there is a limit to just how much you can customise them. This version is very popular among academic bloggers because it is easy to create a clean, professional website without needing to be an expert. Blogs using WordPress.org., on the other hand, need to be self-hosted; the format allows for greater customisation but there are costs associated with it and it requires a little bit more expertise. Many people start off with .com and move to .org when the time is right.
Easy to register a domain name for your blog
Extremely powerful and flexible
Supported by large and active community
Easy to setup with multiple users
Owned by Google and convenient if you already use other Google products
It can be easier to use than WordPress
It’s possible to build your own templates
Easy to use
Great smart phone functionality
Excellent for multimedia
|Cons||Degree of flexibility can be confusing for first time users||
Many people think Blogger sites look less professional than other services
Sites hosted by Blogger are sometimes slow to load
Designed for ‘micro-blogging’ and less suited to larger pieces of writing
Generally more effective for multimedia then writing
Table adapted from text by Mark Carrigan on the 23 Things for the Digital Professional blog.
Familiarising yourself with blogging tools is a good place to start but is perhaps putting the cart before the horse. The key to a successful blog—whether academic or not— is producing regular, high-quality posts that connect with your target audience; in other words: content, content, content! You might want to start, then, by thinking about the kind of material you’ll be sharing, and who your main audience would be.
- What kind of information might you share? Is there a niche that needs to be filled or is there an online research community to which your blog would contribute? Will you discuss your research itself or your experiences as a researcher, or both?
- Who is your audience? Are you writing for research colleagues, students, or the public? Given the open-access nature of blogs, you can never control who your audience will be but the tone of your writing and the topics you cover would be of more interest to some than to others. Is it possible to cater to a range of readers from varied backgrounds?
- What value would you gain, both personally and professionally from writing or contributing to a blog? How will you manage and maintain a blog in the long term? Might it have a fixed lifespan? Might you be able to use it as a more traditional static website or share the workload by collaborating on a shared blog? Every word written on your blog might seem like a word not written on your thesis or your next refereed article, but blogging can be a constructive way of developing the habit of writing regularly. It also provides a space where you can try out new ideas and explore work-in progress. Some academic bloggers develop refereed articles from writing that started life as a blog post.
Ultimately, given the relatively solitary nature of much research practice, blogging can be a way of developing a community, not just an audience but a network of readers and fellow researchers/writers. Unlike traditional forms of academic publishing, you can quickly receive and respond to feedback, you can track what people are reading and you can share preliminary thoughts and ideas. It also allows you to reach out to new audiences, not only people outside academia but also other researchers across different disciplines.
If you have a research blog, send us your details via email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll include it in our blog roll; we’ll be interested to read what you’re all up to.
The Thesis Whisperer’s slide presentation on Academic blogging for beginners.
London School of Economics’ Guide to Blogging.
A thoughtful post from 2010 by Heather Davis on the value of blogging as a PhD student.
Inger Mewburn & Pat Thomson, ‘Why do academics blog? An analysis of audiences, purposes and challenges’, Studies in Higher Education, 38.8, 2013, pp. 1105-19. An interesting study that suggests that ‘academics most commonly write about academic work conditions and policy contexts, share information and provide advice; the intended audience for this work is other higher education staff.’
Mark Shepheard (Library Research Support), in collaboration with David Honeybone (Client Services & Liaison Librarian, Land & Environments).