Before blogging our thoughts away…

By Dec.02, 2010

… it is important to think what this business of blogging is all about.

This week I prepared and hosted a workshop on ‘how to blog’ for researchers. It was basically a hands-on session where we get to create a wordpress blog, explore the features the software has to offer, and discuss the deeper meaning of blogging: What is behind the technology?

Blogging for Cats

'Blogging for Cats', Photo by vlashton (Flickr ID), Creative Commons Licence. Click on photo for original source

For me, what is particularly important is to understand the value of blogging and how to blog. How we set up the technology is not that difficult anymore and with a little bit of help we get there. The part we most often struggle with, however, is how we keep ‘that thing’ going…! I have a blog…now what…?

It is not easy to be a blogger, as simple as it might seem when we read other people’s blogs. It takes time. It takes thinking. It takes purpose. And it takes personal motivation… which can be fueled by the peer networks we connect to. Yet, all of this is work, but all of this can also be very beneficial.

In this last session it was interesting to see how the majority of people wanted to start a blog to establish their footprint online. It is a way of communicating with others. It is also a way of others communicating with us. That is afterall what communication is about: a two/ multiway way channel. And that is probably also how a blog differs from a typical website: it is interactive, it records a process, it, somehow, conveys a bit of human presence! It enables to create a digital presence…raise our profile.

So with that in mind, how should one blog?
There isn’t really just one way. There are probably as many blogging styles as there are people actively committed to blogging, and that is probably the beauty of it: our personality will emerge as we blog and put our ideas across, whilst allowing others to contribute with suggestions and comments.
So again, how should one blog?! The best way to go about it is trying to find our own blogging style… our voice. It will not come easy at first, and we may even find ourselves changing styles, or trying new ways of blogging throughout the process, but that is also part of the ‘fun’. With time and practice you start developing a more coherent style… your own voice, and that is what people will look for in blogs: a genuine perspective of the topics we decide to focus on. Our own perspective. The key is: *not* to give up. I mention that because it is easier to start than to keep it. It needs stamina to keep it going, to see the purpose and the value. And most times it takes months until we achieve that state. We can even say that cultivating a blogging voice is two-fold.
we need to develop that writing style, that is friendly, but not over-friendly; that is respectful but not as formal as the style we would use to write a paper. It has to be us. My favourite blogs are those which I can actually ‘listen’ to the authour speak when I read their writing.

The need to cultivate a network around us.

Who is going to read us? Blogging for us can be the a primary goal, but we soon discover the wonders of being commented on. It is great to receive feedback, adds on to our thinking. It’s like people are thinking with you,. But usually there is no receiving without giving. Commenting on other people’s blogs is also a way of blogging and fostering that critical mass around you. It is a good way to start. Also a good strategy to link people to our own digital presence.

Another aspect important to consider is what to blog about?

Blog about your views on the world! 🙂 …OK, that might be a bit too general, especially if you want to establish your digital presence as a researcher. So you might consider to narrow down your focus to your research. However, it does not have to be solely on the specificities of the micro, tiny little area you are doing research on. As researchers, we should also be able to articulate in the macro field we study and work on. The chances of getting a job precisely on what our thesis is about, for instance, might be slim.
Having said that, it is also important to share and reflect about our niche area of research – no doubt about it – but the idea is that we show the breadth of knowledge we have acquired, the experiences we have had throughout our career path, and ideas that are forming. A blog is exactly that: thinking and work in progress. A showcase of practice and reflection with a personal touch.

Some possible ideas for blogposts:

We can blog about:

  • our reflections regarding a paper we read;
  • current events which interlink with our area of research (e.g.: relate the current economic crisis with your area of investigation, etc)
  • our attendance / presentation at a conference or any other research event
  • about our research in general (do not share raw data or unpublished results without consulting with research participants and/or supervisor/ P.I. first
  • etc

We should *not* use a blog for

  • copying and pasting news items from other websites. That is actually a kind of plagiarism and illegal, even if you share the link of the original resource. Think about it: what’s the point of replicating the information people can access on another website? What we want is your personal and informed views, as a researcher, on the topic you are blogging about…not a copy of what someone else has written.
  • publishing photos, videos, audio files, or any other digital content which belongs to other people without seeking their permission first. Creative commons licensed content might be an alternative. For further information about it, please check here.

In a nutshell, be original, follow your creativity. It might take a while to get there, but eventually we do. We just need to persevere.

Happy blogging!

Please do share any experiences you might have about what to blog and not to blog; about the difficulties of starting and keeping blogging… about blogging in general. I look forward to it.

Further resources:

Managing your blog expectations

The five elements of a perfect blog post (shared by David C Roberts)

Note to self: need to write a blogpost about transforming a blog, into a professional, interactive kind of portfolio. Might be sooner than later….

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply