Note from the editor: In this post, expert blogger Emma Cragg offers useful advice to novice bloggers
As a researcher I’m pretty sure that you’ve recently read something or heard someone saying that you should be blogging. You think their reasons are sound but there’s a voice in your head making you doubt yourself:
- you’ve got nothing to say
- it’s a whole new style of writing
- you won’t keep it going
- nobody will read it anyway
I’m here to call out that voice, calm your fears and hopefully help you to take the first step to becoming a blogger.
What qualifies me to do this? I started blogging as a teenager before I was even aware of what a blog was. I’ve never thought about it before, but this means I’ve been blogging for around 15 years. I can’t tell you the number of blogs I’ve had over this time. I’ve always had at least one on the go, but more likely two; one professional and one personal. When I’ve set them up they’ve all had a clear purpose. Some have been written for specific events. Others have been set up for teams to run.
Despite all this experience I still get nervous every time I publish a post. I wouldn’t have it any other way – it means I care about what I’m writing and making it the best I can for the people who are going to read it. So my first piece of advice to you is to embrace the fear and use it to make your blog the best it can be.
Deciding what to write about
There’s an easy answer to the question of what you’re going to write about – anything. Yes, really. As long as you’ve got a clear idea of the goal of your blog and the overarching theme, within that you can write about any topic:
- your research
- study skills
- careers advice
One thing to consider if you’re writing about your research is plagiarism. Putting your research ideas out there on the web might bring the threat of them being stolen, but you might consider your blog as a space to develop ideas or provide introductions to the complex ideas you’re dealing with. Being done for self-plagiarism when it’s time to publish via traditional routes might also worry you: I’d argue that your blog should be pitched at a different level and the content not be so substantive so the risk of this is slim.
Don’t worry if you’re not an expert on what you’re writing about (yet). I honestly think it helps if you’re not. What I’ve observed from interactions with the readers of my blogs is that they’re looking to learn from the experiences of others in a similar position to them. They want to know how you did things, why and what you learned from it.
For example, the most popular post on my blog is about writing handover notes. I wrote it when I was looking for tips on how to write a good handover document and couldn’t find anything useful. It gets as many daily views (around 40) as it did the day it was published over a year ago. Why? It shares my experience, offers practical tips and covers a topic that isn’t written about much.
The act of writing
Once you know what the topic of your post is going to be, get the initial ideas out of your head. Put them down on paper or in a digital notepad, whatever works best for you. You might find it helpful to give yourself a time limit – I usually begin posts in my lunch breaks which gives me a deadline for getting something down. Don’t edit as you go along. You’ll end up with a rough draft or perhaps just a list of disconnected thoughts. The important thing is that it’s a start.
Now you can edit. I find it’s best to leave the draft for a while, when I come back to it with fresh eyes it’s usually obvious where to go next.
The more you write for your blog the more distinct you’ll find your voice becoming. It’s different from writing academic papers, yes, but remember you had to learn how to do that at some point too, and see where you are now.
I find it’s easier to write outside of the blog environment. Only once I’ve got what I’d consider to be the final draft do I copy this to my blog editor. At this point I preview it to see how it looks in the template and give it a final proof. Once the final tweaks are made it’s finally time to publish.
We all know how difficult it is to write when you’re not in the right frame of mind. And I would say, don’t force it. As you’re building your blog you’re going to want to have a fairly regular schedule of posts, but once it’s up and running don’t worry if you don’t post for a week or two. You’re not going to lose followers if when you do write, what you’re posting is valuable.
If you are concerned about posting at regular intervals consider writing multiple posts when you’re in the right mood. On most blogging systems you can schedule posts to publish at certain times – I use this feature a lot on my own blog and the one I set up for my team.
For the team blog we also have a content calendar which allows us to plan out posts a couple of months in advance. This is a really useful tool if you’ve got lots of ideas for things to write about – you can plan posts around themes, or specific events you want to tie into. We use Trello for our calendar, but you can easily use your regular calendar software or just a spreadsheet.
And there you have it, my advice for getting started with blogging. I’ve summarised that stream of consciousness into a few key takeaways:
- write about your experiences
- share what you learn and give practical advice
- choose topics where there’s a gap in existing writing
- just get some ideas onto the page – don’t worry about order or style
- give your draft some space and then begin to edit
- write when the mood takes you, one post, maybe two
- schedule posts in advance for lean periods to keep the momentum going
Do you have any top tips for beginner bloggers? Share them with us in the comments, below.
- Dorothy Bishop – Why blog?
- Lynne Murphy – I’m having a blogsistential crisis! I am a blogger. And I am an academic. But am I an academic blogger?
- Jenny Delasalle – Academic blogs: they risk plagiarism, don’t they? Three key aspects to consider.