Social Scholar: An introduction to writing blog posts (29 October 2014)

The Social Scholar

The Social Scholar seminar begins again this month and I will be talking at the first session about writing blog posts. Here is some of my thoughts on the matter.

If you search online you will very quickly find numerous articles offering advice about how to write a good, successful blog post. Many of these will be lists – 20 Quick Tips on Writing Great Blog Posts or 19 Headline Writing Tips for Blog Posts – or suggest that if you follow these ‘rules’ then you will quickly make money out of your post: Writing a Good Blog – For Dummies; How to Write a Blog Post: A Simple Formula etc.

As a general rule in academia we are not interested in making money from blog posts. That is not their primary purpose or even their secondary purpose. It’s simply not relevant. We are interested in attracting an audience – of course – but the advice pieces often do not help us to solve the balance problem that we often come across whenever we try and summarise complex material into a short gathering of paragraphs. How do we ensure that our point has been made and understood without losing the very audience we seek in the process?

I have been involved with blogs since 2010 (which doesn’t sound long, but then blogs have only really developed beyond their initial focus as personal online dairies since c. 2009) and I have spent time thinking about how to write posts and reading the advice scattered throughout the internet. Most of it isn’t very helpful for academics. The advice is directed towards business – towards pushing up sales – not toward scholarly impact and public engagement.

The advice talks about ‘rules’ but I’ve looked at successful and unsuccessful blogs from academic institutions, groups, and individuals, and the ‘rules’ often don’t apply. In short, a blog can take any form that you want it to take. It can have any voice you wish to give it. It can be thousands of words or a few hundred; it could be an image with a title, or a video. There is no right or wrong way to write a blog post.

And yet! The advice that does exist can be used by academics and research facilitation staff as a guide and as a means to more successfully put a point across. There are ways to write that aid skim reading (for almost all blog posts are skim read more than they are read in detail), there are ways to point out quickly what the topic is about, and there are ways to ensure that the blog post works for you just as much as it works for the intended audience.

I will therefore be offering suggestions at this month’s Social Scholar on how you might wish to write and structure a blog post. I won’t be suggesting ‘rules’, but I will be offering advice on structuring, length, and tone and much else besides.

I will be talking at the Social Scholar seminar on Wednesday 29 October 2014, 1pm-2pm in Senate House (University of London). For full details check out the event page or SAS Blogs.

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