What’s Grad School Got to Do with Blogging? A lot! Things to consider before you start

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This is a version of two workshops I held this past semester, and I thought it would be a good reminder about blogging over the summer! These are just some rudimentary things to think about if you are a first-time blogger. Please feel free to post questions, concerns, or experiences with blogging in the comments!


Image credit: thehalogroupeffect.com

Pursuing and sharing your academic interests through blogging is a great way to expand your professional network and to keep up with the news of your field. Not only will it allow you to share your experiences with others, but it can give you access to feedback about your ideas and advice from others. There are thousands and thousands of blogs out there, so getting involved in this virtual world can be overwhelming. Here are some things to consider before you start.

Read blogs before you start blogging on your own.
Just like any kind of writing, you learn most by reading. By surveying the different blogs out there, you can get a sense of the different styles you might want to adopt in your own blogging. It will also give you a good idea of what’s not out there that might attract readers to your blog.

Should you start your own blog or join one that already exists?
Starting a blog from scratch gives you complete control over it: you decide how it looks, what content appears in it, how often it is updated, and who your audience will be. You don’t have criteria or guidelines that restrict what you talk about in your posts and how you talk about it. It is your full responsibility to find an audience and keep it.
Joining a blog that already exists, as either a guest or regular blogger, also has its benefits. You don’t have to worry about finding an audience and keeping it, but you do have to cater to the audience that already exists. This can give you a fuller sense of an online conversation and community. You are not just speaking for yourself but for a larger group. For our own blog, we’re writing for each other, but also other academics who might be interested in the issues we tackle.

Image credit: wronghands1.wordpress.com

Image credit: wronghands1.wordpress.com

Consider your audience.
There’s pretty much a blog for everyone somewhere out there. Who will be interested in reading your blog? Will it be academic (it doesn’t have to be!)? What level of academics: advice for undergrads, for grad students, or for all levels of scholarship? Will you stick to a specific field, or will you open it up to broad subjects? Who you envision reading your blog has a lot of influence on the rest of these categories. Also the more frequently you blog, the more likely you are to keep an audience. If readers have to wait a month for a new post, they might forget about your blog altogether. You also want to consider ways to share your blog, through social media and other websites.

What content will you share?
If you’ve chosen an over-arching theme for your blog, think about what topics you would interest the audience you’ve envisioned. What categories or questions might the audience ask? What have you learned through your study and experiences that others might find useful? If you’re reporting on an event, make sure you open it up to larger questions so that others can learn even without attending that event. Always give context and answer the larger “so what” question. Content that is likely to get readers addresses hot topics or themes in unique or detailed ways, adding to a conversation that already exists with either frequent posts or different perspectives, like Cary Grant Won’t Eat You, a blog about classic movies. Or, sometimes it’s best to go with the strange and unusual, covering topics that entertain by the very fact that they’re weird and interesting. My favorite example of this is The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice, a blog about strange medical artifacts.

Cater your style to fit your blog.
Above all else, you want your posts to be readable: avoid jargon and long, convoluted sentences. Consider your posts to be more like informal discussions than publishable pieces. You can more creative in your writing here than in most academic journals, so have fun with it! Aim to inform but keep it light and save the boring bits for the footnotes if you must have them. Prioritize facts and details that other readers might not know but also that they can apply to their own work and research. In other words, don’t tell us every detail about what happened in your seminar, but pick out some of the interesting or difficult questions being debated and even how people reacted to them. Be personal but not so personal that it gets boring. You want to make it just as much about the reader as about you. Academic blogging is walking a fine line between professional and casual. Think of it as on the level of writing an email to everyone in your department: polished but friendly. I would also suggest keeping your posts positive, even if they’re talking about depressing subjects (uh, like the job market). Focus on what can be done about such topics instead of burying your reader in depressing ideas with no way out.
Layout and organization are also important. Think of your post as closer to journalism, perhaps, than creating an argument: you want the most important information in the first paragraph so that readers know if they should continue reading. It also helps to consider the aesthetic space of the page: short paragraphs broken up are easier to read than one huge block of text. Ending with bullet points, questions, or information about where the topic is headed (like where the next conference will be if you report on a conference) is also helpful.

Image credit: quickmeme.com

Image credit: quickmeme.com

Have fun with it!
Don’t be afraid to get creative with your blog posts if that’s your style. Adding links to other websites or film clips can make your blog more interesting and create an interactive reading experience. Use pictures! I throw in Grumpy Cat every chance I get. People like stuff to look at!

A few don’ts:
• Do not use blogs as a place to publish original research. DO NOT.
• Do not complain about specific people, even if you don’t name them (and especially don’t name them). Don’t forget, it’s public. This isn’t livejournal…
• Do not badmouth your own department or institution. If it serves a purpose, there’s probably a different forum for that or a more tactful method.
• Do not write about confidential information

Helpful articles on blogging:
Should You Blog Your Dissertation Research?
So You Want to Blog (Academic Edition)
3 Reasons Every Grad Student Should Learn WordPress

Some good general blogs for grad students:
From PhD to Life
PhD 2 Published
British Library Blogs / New York Public Library Blogs
NASSR Grad Student Caucus Blog

Please add your own blog recommendations in the comments!

1 Comment

  1. Thank you! My grad course is run through blogs. I appreciate your post, and I am going to send it to my students now so they can start thinking about setting up their blogs.

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