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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Is blogging useful? Kajsa Hartig (Nordiska Museet) on blogs

Kajsa Hartig (Nordiska Museet)
Kajsa Hartig (Nordiska Museet)

The next Social Scholar seminar will take place at 1pm on 19 February 2014 in room 246 (Senate House, London). This month we will be looking at how two different museums use social media and how this might be of interest to academics, archivists, librarians and other related staff members and students.  As always the seminar is FREE and open to all. Click here for further details.

The second of our speakers is Kajsa Hartig, Digital Navigator at the Nordiska Museet in Stockholm. This is what she has to say about blogs.

Do you think blogging is a useful pursuit for academics and why?

Yes I do believe blogging is very useful. It is a repository for your ideas and thoughts, a place to share research and projects. Just by itself the blog is perhaps less useful, but by communicating it through other channels, i.e. Twitter, Facebook , forums etc. your content will reach a wider audience, more people will find your blog posts, read and comment. The blog is a part of a larger digital eco system that you need to master.

Blog about one overall topic, for example your area of research, but elaborate in blog posts covering smaller topics where you can deepen the thoughts and discussions. Create blog posts in response to someone else’s blog, comment on other people’s blogs. This will keep you a part of a larger online dialogue with in your area of interest.

Think about how you are portrayed through your blog, are people’s perception of you the one that you want them to have? A blog can be helpful in building a professional profile online, and in that sense also contribute to a growing career, regardless if you want to pursue a career within academia or move into the arts sector

A blog can also be an arena for trying out new ideas and getting feedback that might even set you off in another direction.

For the full interview with Kajsa Hartig visit the SAS Blog. You can also learn more about the Social Scholar on the SAS events system. The Social Scholar is a FREE event held by the School of Advanced Study every month. Please also follow on Twitter @SASNews hashtag #socialscholar.

Is blogging useful? Kathryn Box (Manchester Museum) on blogs

Kathryn Box (Manchester Museum)
Kathryn Box (Manchester Museum)

The next Social Scholar seminar will take place at 1pm on 19 February 2014 in room 246 (Senate House, London). This month we will be looking at how two different museums use social media and how this might be of interest to academics, archivists, librarians and other related staff members and students.  As always the seminar is FREE and open to all. Click here for further details.

One of our speakers is Kathryn Box, marketing officer at Manchester Museum. This is what she has to say about blogs.

Do you think blogging is a useful pursuit for academics and why?

There is no doubt that blogging is a useful pursuit for academics. There are numerous professional and personal reasons why it is beneficial, which indeed I could talk for hours about….

From my experience at Manchester Museum, the blogging curators get to ‘diary’ their day to day practice. Ultimately building up a record of activity and events, as well as thinking (and typing) about findings, research and theories. They get to join in debates and show off about the fantastic collection they get to explore. As most academics spend years writing their thesis, blogging is an instantaneous e-journal, which breaks down the barrier between the learner and academic. Students and peers get an amazing insight into a world which goes on behind the scenes at a museum, gaining a better understanding about how curators tick and how these big cultural institutions work.

This does indeed mean that in Marketing we are asking quite a lot from our curators, on top of their already heavy work load. However thinking about blogging as a part of your way of working and resource management, it can become a source of structure and excitement. Blogs can create a level playing field for teacher and learner (blogs can be seen to have ‘democratic potential’) and it is a great way for those quiet students at the back of the class to engage.

Over time blogs have become easier and easier to set up, but time is not wasted making sure it is user friendly and enticing to the reader.  It is important for academics to stay relevant to their audience and most importantly, are active. This means a bit more than publishing a post every week. Once you’ve written a post, encourage comments (this may be tweeting about your post, making a video, emailing your post to people). Then when you get comments: reply. Encourage feedback, be honest and question responses. This all helps in starting a real dialogue and discussion, which is pivotal to a successful (and of course, useful) blog.

For the full interview with Kathryn Box visit the SAS Blog. You can also learn more about the Social Scholar on the SAS events system. The Social Scholar is a FREE event held by the School of Advanced Study every month. Please also follow on Twitter @SASNews hashtag #socialscholar. 

The Anti-Social Scholar (and how not to become one) – The Social Scholar

Julian Harrison from the British Library discussed the Medieval Manuscripts Blog to the Social Scholar seminar on 23 October 2013.  The focus of his talk was on why he believes it is important for blogs to be used as part of any academic research project.  

The SAS Blog has  further information about this talk including a collection of the Twitter feed here, and a summary of the event itself here.

Mark Carrigan on blogs for The Social Scholar

The second free public The Social Scholar seminar on social media features Mark Carrigan talking specifically about ‘blogging’.  The emphasis will be on discussion, with Mark offering practical advice and encouraging us all to share ideas on how to get started as a research blogger.  In preparation for the seminar I asked Mark a series of questions which are now up on SAS Blogs: An interview with Mark Carrigan.  I also asked him an additional question about his views on blogging.  This is what he had to say.

 

Hello Mark, do you think blogging is a useful pursuit for academics and why?

Mark CarriganI think blogging can be enormously useful for academics but that the concept of ‘blogging’ can hinder the understanding necessary for this. Not only because it still has negative connotations for many but also because it can obscure what a natural activity blogging is for academics. The application of this relatively novel label to the activity can distract from the fact that a ‘blog’ is just a new tool for the writing and communication which have always been an integral part of scholarship. It’s in this sense that I think we can see blogging as an activity which is continuous with ‘traditional’ scholarly practice. The discontinuity emerges from the immense communicative capacity inherent in what are effectively free services. Blogs offer the possibility of instantaneous and zero-cost publishing to an international audience. This possibility is something which seems enormously important to me. I like to stress the continuities with those day-to-day practices which are familiar to academics because it’s only when we start from the recognition of continuity that we can begin to think practically about the possibilities offered by blogging.

If you would like to hear more from Mark Carrigan please do join us on Wednesday 13 November, 1pm-2pm.  The Social Scholar is a free public seminar series held in room 246 of Senate House (University of London).  Full details can be found on the SAS blog – The Social Scholar category.

Blogging for Historians blog: Social media or not?


Next week Julian Harrison from the British Library will be talking about social media at the British Library at the School of Advanced Study lunchtime seminar series – The Social Scholar.  I’ve been involved in organising this event, and I’d like to share with you some of the reasons below about why I think this seminar series is a great idea.

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In the last few years social media has really taken off as a thing that should be used in academia for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes it is used to promote activities – lectures, conferences, seminars – other times research projects.  Often individual academics use blogs to talk about aspects of their research that would either not see the light of day otherwise, or as a preliminary place to upload thoughts, ideas, and research before traditional publication. Twitter is used both to promote research and events and to find out more about what is going on – it’s an online networking site that, if used well, can pay dividends.

In short, micro-blogging sites such as Twitter and Facebook provide a new conduit for sharing information; blogs allow academics and higher education institutions to share, publically, what it is that they are doing.  Image based social media such as Flickr allows academics to share pictures essential to their work, whilst Pinterest and historyPin enable us to share notes and organise material found online. There is a whole world out there of social media tools – some better and more useful that others – but questions still remain for many of us – are these tools really as useful as they claim and in what way?  What can they do for me?

Whilst it is true that Social Media provides a fantastic opportunity to talk to people and to share knowledge, it is also true that it’s a bubble of its own making. There’s no point relying solely on social media to get your message across because you will only ever reach a small percentage of your desired audience. When you start to use social media regularly it is so very easy to forget that not everyone else is, nor are they always going to find what it is you are sharing very easily.

The adjective “If you build it they will come” doesn’t necessarily apply – produce a tweet on Twitter, for instance, and it’s gone within minutes (perhaps seconds) on most people’s timeline – how likely is it that they will see it? Write a blog post and even if people find it chances are they will only skim read.

So what’s the solution? Is social media all that it is cracked up to be? I don’t have an answer, although these are questions that play on my mind from time to time. This is why I’m looking forward to being part of The Social Scholar seminars put on by the School of Advanced Study.  I’m hoping that experts already using social media in their work can help me in my confusion and perhaps help you in yours.

The Social Scholar will be held once every month term-time between 1pm-2pm on a Wednesday. It’s free to all to attend and coffee/tea will be provided (please also feel free to bring your own lunch!). Each session will comprise of a 20 minute presentation from an expert using social media, followed by debate, discussion and questions. For full details see the programme on the SAS blog and elsewhere on this blog.

The first session will be held in Senate House room 246 on 23 October (1pm-2pm) with guest speaker Julian Harrison from the British Library talking on the subject of The Anti-Social Scholar (and how not to become one).  You can also follow us and join in on the conversation on Twitter through the hashtag #socialscholar.