In the survey that was initially carried out for Blogging for Historians (see the blog post here) several questions focused on good practice. Participants were asked what they think works well in a blog-format in terms of content and, also, what works less well. The results were interesting.
Let’s start with the kinds of content the participants felt worked well in a blog-format. Many of the responses noted the need for posts to be short (possibly around the 300-500 word level), dealing with a straightforward subject (i.e. one question asked and answered or a review of something, or ‘problem’ topics). The need for images was noted quite often as well, suggesting a desire for some visual interest to act as a further stimulus.
Here are a few of the other suggestions:
“Things that provoke discussion within the academic community – there has to be a question driving the blog post”
“A mix of formal posts and more off-the-cuff think pieces”
“Blogs are a great opportunity to discuss research-in-progress and teaching, respond to current affairs, and engage with subjects (such as popular culture) that aren’t usually discussed in more academic contexts. They also allow for greater use of images and videos.”
“Sharing odd tidbits of historical fact – people, artefacts, small stories – that aren’t enough for a piece of scholarship but are curious.”
“Working papers (like a written conference paper). Editorials”
“Short pieces of a few paragraphs (though maybe linking to longer articles”
“News content, reflections in short sentence, and image-centered article work well in a blog-format”
“A short case with some analysis, methodological problems, messy bits”
“It needs to be presented in an accessible style of writing, since one only allows oneself limited amount of time to browse and read blogs and therefore don’t have the time to unravel a dense text – there are enough of those in the regular course of one’s day”
“I like the personal aspects of blogs – i.e. how I research what I research”
When asked what kinds of content work less well in the blog-format the principal response was ‘long essays or narratives’. Blogs need to be kept short and succinct. They also need to be kept relatively simple. Heavy discourse was frowned upon as not right for this format. There were also some suggestions that the use of footnotes and other scholarly apparatus just gets in the way for blogging, these should be left for journals and books. The flip of the coin, was an expression that ‘too personal’ is a bad thing. It is suggested in the survey answers that scholarly discussion needs to be dosed in an informal narrative. Blogs are not the place for the presentation of full scale research, but snippets, provided in a more relaxed writing style than would normally be the case.
Of course amongst all of these answers were some stating that anything can potentially work under the right circumstances and that much has to be left to personal taste. This is of course true, but the participants do strongly seem to argue for short, succinct, and informal posts, with pictures, but not too personal.