Many within our unit have asked about how to write academic blogs and how do they differ from writing journal articles or findings documents. Rather than reinventing the wheel, the answers to these questions are already out there and the remainder of this post points you in the direction of this advice…
“Be brief, be vivid and be connected”
Being brief, vivid and connected are the three essential rules from Corey Tomsons’ piece on how to write an academic blog.
- Being brief means keeping the posts short, as well as the paragraphs and sentences too.
- Being vivid means definitely avoiding jargon – all teams and departments have it – for starters we work in PSSRU within SSPSSR – that’s a lot of letters – a lot of Ss, Ps and Rs – and potentially a lot of nonsense to our readers! (PSSRU = Personal Social Services Research Unit, SSPSSR = School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research)
- Being connected means linking and linking often. Blogs are a great opportunity for connecting with other pieces of your work, or of colleagues, as well as relating your research to a wider social and political context.
A sociologist’s perspective…
A very interesting post from Nate Palmer gives a sociologist’s perspective on writing online. My favourite pieces of advice from his post include:
- “K.I.S.S. – Keep it Simple Scholar!”
- “Talk to your reader. Write as if your reader is in the room with you.”
- “Don’t Let Perfection Be The Enemy of The Good.” – in other words your grammar doesn’t have to be perfect – focus on clearly communicating your ideas.
George Julian Gems
As a team, we recently benefitted from the experience and advice of George Julian on effective blog writing. Some time ago she put together her top ten tips for new bloggers which is well worth a read. Her tips include “blogging should be a pleasure and not a chore”, “try not to overthink it” and “there are no rules”.
Social media guide for researchers
This guide is a great starting point to show you how you can use social media within your research. It takes a frank look at both the pros and cons of using it. They conclude that “researchers who are active users of social media feel they offer them benefits in their professional life. By speeding up communication and enabling new forms of collaboration, social media also have the potential to spark exciting new research, and to increase productivity.” Is this, or will this be, your experience too?
Blogging benefits from LSE
Colleagues at LSE have provided a really helpful set of presentation slides on how to embark on academic blogging. They demonstrate just how effective, low-cost and interactive a blog can be, as well as being a great opportunity for widening your networks and building contacts. Their presentation demonstrates graphically the potential of effective blogging – a huge spike in viewings of their work as their blog post was released. They give you some useful ideas about what you can blog about ranging from updates on research progress, comments on current events and reports from conferences, as well as collaborations with other bloggers or reposting their work.
Making data meaningful
We use a lot of statistics in PSSRU, but can we use this data more effectively to convey our messages more clearly, concisely and accurately to our audience? The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe sets out “A guide to presenting statistics”, providing invaluable advice. They make it clear that first and foremost, you need to find a story. “For data to be meaningful to a general audience, it is important to find meaning in the numbers.” The guide goes on to stress the importance of writing in a jounalistic style – using the “inverted pyramid” – presenting the most important facts first. This guide is well worth a read and is set out very clearly, following it’s own advice of “Language: keep it clear, concise and simple”.
Use of Images
We all love pictures, right? I know I do. I know it’s why I still prefer to read childrens books and flick through to see how many pictures there are in the story!
Relevant images can convey powerful messages and break up the density of text. This is something that George Julian has also stressed within her top ten tips for new bloggers described above, where she comments that “I always try to include at least one image or visual in each of my posts.”
One health warning – copyright! Unfortunately we cannot just search Google images and include any image we like within a blog. However, there are free-to-use images out there and one of the sites with the best selection I’ve come across is Freeimages.com with over 400,000 photos to choose from. Even with these sites it pays to check out the individual licensing agreement for the use of any image. All of the images in this post come from Freeimages.com.
Further suggestions for obtaining free-to-use images are helpfully listed within the 12 best places to get free images for your site page.
Another way around the copyright issue is to take your own photos and use them – provided you have the permission of any people you include within the photo.
Social media guidelines
And just one final thought before launching further into blogging…the University has drawn together some social media guidelines for staff. These include dos and don’t across all social media channels and are well worth a read. The purpose of these guidelines are summarised in the quote that “while acknowledging the right of staff to freedom of expression, the University has an obligation to protect the reputation of both individual members of staff and the institution as a whole.”
So these are just a few suggestions of what has helped us and may help you as you explore the role of social media within your research. Please feel free to add suggestions of other resources you have come across. Thank you for reading!