Writing a blog allows budding researchers to develop a network of peers and engage with the public, beyond the confines of academia. It offers a platform to hone writing skills and explore new ideas. However, for researchers at the outset of their career, there are a number of issues to consider before setting off. After attending a two-day workshop on Research Blogging in the Arts and Humanities, four PhD researchers voice their anxieties around blogging, and offer some advice on moving forward.
Starting a post!
Whilst we have material and ideas that we want to write about, it’s often difficult to establish where to begin and develop this into something coherent. At times, we automatically revert to the process of academic writing and structures. David McGuinness’ advice was to think of blog posts as ‘recapitulation’, as a way of focussing thoughts and ideas, but we’ve found that we first need a way of getting past the first hurdle.
What should I put online?
Perhaps behind this is the fear of the content itself – what we should and shouldn’t be putting online, how it reflects on us as academics and whether anything we publish now might interfere with our PhD thesis and future publications. We’ve had some contrasting advice about these issues from various speakers: some have suggested a very neutral tone, being careful to consider how a future employer might react to reading this material; others have advocated showing a bit more personality, using the blog to refine ideas, and not being afraid to be critical and air strong opinions.
Blogs can be used to show a thought process or work in progress, but putting out something ‘unfinished’ can leave us feeling vulnerable and open to criticism. In academia we wait until we know what we want to say before sharing, so spending time writing about the entire process might seem like a waste of time. On the other hand, this could help us see how we arrive at something more finished, and receive feedback to help shape our ideas.
A good idea is to avoid writing directly about your research, but focus on tangential issues: interesting stuff that you’ve come across during your work, but won’t be part of your thesis. Sometimes this can help lead in unexpected directions in your future research, particularly post-PhD. This can also be a great way of building a wider audience for your blog. Emily Bowles has blogged about humurous asides that she has come across during her research, such as nicknames that she’s found for Dickens, or dodgy, hand-written poetry in the margins of old editions. Ryan McNutt recommends using current events and popular culture as a spring-board, not only keeping your material relevant, but helping to grow an audience.
Share your experiences and build a network
The Research Blogging workshop has really shown us that we’re not alone in the fears we’ve had in blogging our research for the first time, and the peer network that we’ve already built in the past two days will be invaluable. Sharing these concerns with other bloggers helps you find ways around your initial anxiety and offers insight into creating content and keeping your blog relevant. Also, try to remember that if you find something fascinating, someone else will be probably share your interest.
Authors: Aaron McGregor, Diljeet Bhachu, Kirsty Boardman & Cia Jackson