Academics and researchers are repeatedly being told about the benefits of blogging and networking online. And rightly so – there is a lot to be gained from broadening your writing experience and reaching out to new audiences. However, starting a blog can be time consuming and, like many other career decisions you will have to make, it is worthwhile putting some thought into it before you start purchasing vanity URLs or spending hours customising themes.
There are a myriad of ways that you can use blogging platforms to share your expertise or experiences, so it is important to think strategically about what you want to achieve and how blogging can help you develop as a researcher. Here are 5 questions that every would-be blogger should ask themselves, before diving into the blogosphere!
1 – What type of blog do you want to contribute to?
While blogging often conjures up an image of the lone researcher labouring over a laptop and wondering if anyone else will ever read what they write, going solo is not the only option. Increasingly, academics are collaborating with peers on group blogs or contributing to a multi-author blog overseen by a central editorial team. If you don’t have the time or the content to populate a blog regularly on your own, guest blogging or working as part of a team may be a better approach. To assist you in evaluating your options thoroughly, Professor Patrick Dunleavy (@Write4Research) outlines the differences between the three types of academic blogs in his article, Shorter, better, faster, free.
2 - What do you hope to gain from blogging?
Before investing your valuable time into any activity, you should usually ask, “What’s in it for me?” Some of the benefits to be gained from academic blogging, include:
- Refining your writing skills
- Reaching a broader audience
- Enhancing your online profile
- Networking with other academics
- Engaging with the non-academic community
It is important to consider early on whether the potential benefits will be worth the time commitment you will need to make or if the same advantages can be gained through other activities. For an interesting overview of the reasons why research students blog, take a look at Why do doctoral researchers blog? by Pat Thomson (@ThomsonPat). An outcome-based approach will help you determine if blogging is worthwhile or if you would be better applying the effort to writing your thesis.
3 – What are you going to talk about?
When deciding the content for your blog, a good starting point is to think about what you have learned or how you have progressed as a research student. Academic blogs can be broadly categorised as:
- Reflective practice – the blog becomes an online journal where the author reflects on their research or teaching activities
- Discussion of academic life – the author uses the blog to discuss wider issues in academia, not necessarily related to their own work
- Research commentary – the blog is used as an outlet for discussing methodologies, disseminating research findings and soliciting early feedback
While you don’t have to strictly adhere to one category, it is a good idea to align your blog with one theme so that followers will know what to expect and you don’t lose focus.
4 – Who is your target audience?
Now that we have brought up the topic of followers, you need to consider who will want to read your musings. Your first thought may be to target your blog posts to your colleagues in the academic community, which is what most academic blogs tend to do. However, if you are hoping to establish yourself as an expert outside of academia or just to raise your online profile, you should consider writing for a non-academic audience such as industry professionals or the wider community. Crossover sites like The Conversation have proven to be excellent catalysts for stimulating online discussions of research which regularly filter into mainstream media, enabling researchers to share their knowledge far beyond academia.
Consciously selecting and keeping your target audience in mind will help you to find your blogging voice. Whether you are writing for your peers, other professionals or anyone who cares to read your blog, just write the way you would talk to them. Think of your blog post as a 21st century letter, with the added benefit of multi-media and hyperlinks!
5 – Which platform is best suited to your needs?
If you decide to start your own solo or group blog, there are various blogging platforms you can choose from. Established bloggers recommend:
- WordPress - easy-to-use free blogging site that includes analytics
- Medium - story editor that focuses on ideas and networks
- Blogger - (blogspot) free weblog publishing tool from Google
- Sunsed - low-cost blogging platform which includes analytics and SEO
You may have the option of a dedicated blogging site within your university, but it is worth going out on your own if there is a chance you will eventually move on and want to take your followers with you. Whichever platform you use, make sure that it integrates well with social media for ease of sharing. After all, there is no point in writing fascinating blog posts if you people aren’t aware of them.
To help you answer the above questions, and to before yourself adequately before embarking on your blogging journey, take some time to read other blogs related to your area of interest. Research Blogging or the Higher Education Blog Network are handy starting points. For more tips, view the presentation from our recent workshop or read Blogging as a researcher. If you are an experienced blogger, share your own advice in the comments!