As a researcher, your days are packed. Your to-do list is ever growing and your papers are never perfect enough. That is why I recommend aspirant blogging researchers to only start a blog about their research when it is fun, doable, and useful.
A standard component of my training Blogging about your research is the individual feedback session. In most of these conversations I reach a point in which the participant starts to see a mode of blogging that is both enjoyable, doable and useful. I think these are the critical factors that determine whether you persevere. When we do not reach this perspective, I advise to think twice. Let me explain.
Blogging can be an enjoyable activity. To start with: you might like the writing itself. A blog is much less rigid in form than the peer reviewed research paper. You have a lot of freedom of moulding words until they express what is in your head. Playing with structure, sentences, paragraphs, humour, metaphors, writing rules is allowed. You even may involve your artistic talents by drawing your own illustrations, making photographs, GIFs, videos.
The fun may also come from the world outside. You probably will discover that others actually read what you write. Even people you do not know. Back in the days, I was really amazed by the discovery that the neighbour of the mother of my sister in law also read my blog about my MSc internship in Cameroon (the fact that I studied lions could have played a role). Some of your readers express their admiration. Others ask questions, or share their private theories of everything they worked on for decades. And, unfortunately, a few might throw dirt at you (you can learn to cope with this). Your blog can be your connection to the world outside academia. To some this even helps to reconnect with the passion for their research they lost in the process of climbing the academic ladder.
Blogging might become your new hobby. However, it is not what you are paid for. When blogging becomes so much fun that you chose to blog instead of finetuning your next paper, it can even harm your research. That is why I also emphasize the importance of finding a doable mode of blogging. Spend maximum four hours per post. This prevents you from approaching a blog post as being a semi-paper that requires days of research and writing. Preferably use your blog for things that are already in your head and that require (almost) no extra literature study.
At the same time: do blog. Block time for it in your agenda. Defend the act of blogging from all those (maybe not so important) urgent task that each day throws at you. For instance: you reserve the morning of each third Thursday as blogging time. Otherwise, blogging becomes one of those important but not urgent things that you endlessly postpone.
That brings me to the third factor. A blog can contribute to reaching your career goals. The advantages of having a blog are myriad. From improvement of your ideas by the act of writing them down and the feedback you receive, to the development of writing skills that also will help you write better research grant proposals. And from the increased visibility to relevant outsiders (peers, students, future employers, funding agencies, industry partners), to the strengthening of the position of science in society.
All these advantages can be part of a strategy in which you consider things such as audience, goal, message and medium. At least the exploration of the limits in which you can safely operate without doing harm to yourself or others (airing your dirty laundry in public might not always be a good idea) should be part of this. However, in my opinion utility is the least of the three factors you should be thinking about as a starting blogger. You will only make it past the first few posts if you really enjoy writing. At the same time, this new hobby of yours will not cannibalize on your research if you do it within acceptable time limits.
The secret is that the first two factors are key for making the third work. A strategy that does not allow you to write from your own impulse will most likely strand. In contrast, if you start blogging from your genuine enthusiasm about the things you really find interesting, your readers will recognize it. That will attract a readership. You will receive responses (sometimes you hear months later that some enjoyed all your posts without reacting) and that will motivate you, help you to improve your writing and get the strategy clearer. Ultimately, your blog truly contributes to an online presence that spreads the word about you and your research. Even when you are finetuning you next paper, or relaxing at the beach.
PS: The steps I describe in this post, will also help you to get started.
Main image: 95C on Pixabay