Do you want to share your research with more people than just the readers of your peer-reviewed articles? Starting a blog proves to be an accessible and effective way. But how do you do that? And, how do you get past the first posts? These thre steps will help you.
During the training Blogging About Your Research I frequently talk with aspiring bloggers. We discuss why they want to start a blog and what holds them back. A universal factor is enthusiasm for sharing knowledge with a broader audience. This springs from a sense of moral obligation, the joy of writing, the need for own platform or the development of writing skills.
However, enthusiasm is no guarantee for success. It is in the nature of academics to put the bar pretty high. The website has to be perfect, the strategy watertight. Of those who make it past this stage and who make a WordPress page, a large number only writes one, two or maximum three posts. Then the energy is gone. Blogging takes time. Unfortunately, it still is something you do next to your time-consuming and often challenging job. In the evening hours, in the weekend or on your day off. Although universities proclaim the importance of reaching out, they do not formally support the researchers who do it. That impedes persisting.
So, how do you get past the beginning? The following three steps help you with starting a blog.
Step one is exploring. Find an answer to the question: is blogging really something for me? The answer might be no. If you think about blogging, start with your impulse. What topic would be a pleasure for you to write about? If you start writing texts you enjoy writing, it would not be a waste of time if no one reads them. The writing itself helps you to train your writing skills and explore your ideas. Moreover, a text written with joy is a good read.
You can also approach it more strategic. Your blog can contribute to reaching your career goals. Where do you picture yourself in five years and how can your blog help you to get there? What is your learning objective? Who are the readers you would like to reach? What effect should the blog sort? And, what is the message to the world? Sparring about these questions during my blog training opens a perspective in which blogging is both fun and beneficial.
2. Try it
The next step is to try it. This primarily is about the writing itself, much less about being read. Is writing really as joyful as you expected it to be? How much time does it take? Do you have the discipline to sit and write? In this stage, choose a platform that makes posting simple. A few suggestions:
- Paper. If you just want to practise writing, or reflect on your ideas, and do not care about being read, you can start on paper. Buy yourself a nice notebook and start writing (and sketching) your journal. Just like Charles Darwin and Leonardo da Vinci did.
- Word. If you want to start safe (and not put your first writing out in the open), but expose your texts to some peers, then a word processor is your friend. You can send your posts and to friends, colleagues, or acquaintances if you want feedback on your writing. All my blog posts (and journalistic writings) originate in Microsof Word. Through the writing of countless texts in the application, Calibri 11 points and the length of 1 – 1,5 A4 has become my writing habitat. My laptop contains dozens of semi-finished, unpublished texts that did not survive natural selection.
- LinkedIn. This social medium offers an user-friendly blogging facility. Publishing, lay-out, adding links, embedding videos is simple. Another advantage is that you (probably) already have a network on the platform and thus reach a relevant readership. By adding blog posts, your profile becomes more interesting and thus improves its networking purpose. Disadvantage: LinkedIn is all about window dressing. You can post about your successes (e.g. your personal perspective on your recent publication), but more critical pieces detonate.
- Group blog. A lot of academic group blogs are open for guest bloggers. The advantage is that the editors help improve and publish your texts. You also tap into an already existing audience and benefit from the reputation of the blog. Disadvantage: the editors can decline your post.
What also helps: set a realistic goal. For example: ‘In the coming six months I am going to write six posts of 500 – 800 words. Then I evaluate on the process and the outcome.’ You might conclude that you found it difficult to write the first two posts, but that you then got the taste of it. Or, you discovered that outreach is great, but that blogging is not your medium. What starts as a blog can lead to videos on TikTok, a laymans glossy of your PhD thesis, or a column in a newspaper.
Do you really like blogging? Go on! Update your strategy with your fresh experiences. You can keep writing on LinkedIn or the group blog you joined (and maybe become an editor). Or, start your own WordPress site. Unlike your university profile page, it is still yours when you start working at another institute or leave academia. Next to your blog, you can add your cv, your publications, your research projects, and your media appearances (many blogging academics are discovered by the mass media as public experts) to your website. If still available, claim the url firstnamelastname.com. This website is all about YOU!
Another option is to start your own group blog. Together you can post in a higher frequency, proofread each other’s posts and reach more readers via social media. You do get organizational hassles (e.g. editorial meetings, differences of opinion) in return. Start with clear agreements on division of labour and responsibilities. If you have the budget (you can make it part of your research grant application), adding a professional editor to the team helps to actualize your ambitions.
By the way, creating your own website is easier than it seems. In an afternoons time you can your own WordPress page up and running. During my blogging training you practise with the app. Because it is the most popular blogging platform, countless (video) tutorials are freely available online. Do you shy away from doing it yourself? Hire a WordPress developer. For less then a thousand euro’s you can have a gorgeous site.
Last tip: connect with other academic bloggers. Probably you are the only blogger in your research group. Exchanging ideas and inspiration with fellow bloggers helps to continue. If you want to meet them, Twitter is the place to go to. Most blogging academics will love to help you on your way, give you feedback on your ideas, or spread your post to their followers.
Main image: Writer’s block, Drew Coffman op Flickr