This post was originally written for the 23 Research Things series , run by the University of Melbourne Library. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank them, both for asking me to participate, and for publishing 23 Research Things. It is a great series.
Blogs allow researchers to engage with a broad audience, including other researchers, in a less formal and more open way than traditional academic publishing. It provides an avenue to publish both research stories and expert commentary.
Blogging in the academy is generally a labour of love. Most universities find it difficult to recognise blogging within a formal workload or promotions framework unless the blog has a huge readership or sits within a recognised research communications role.
What are you writing?
Some research blogs, like Manu Saunders’ Ecology is not a Dirty Word, provide information about a particular field of research, discussing new discoveries or important news. Others tell the story of particular project or research group. Eva Alisic’s Trauma Recovery Lab provides updates about her lab and Kate Bagnall’s The Tiger’s Mouth provide updates on her research.
Some provide advice on techniques or tools. Stephanie Evergreen’s Evergreen Data is full of advice for presenting data effectively. Helen Kara writes about social science research methods and Anuja Cabraal writes about social science research analysis. Some, like Kate Bowles’ wonderful Music for Deckchairs and Tamson Pietsch’s Cap and Gown, critique universities and research culture.
You can take whatever approach you are comfortable with, and that approach will probably change over time. Paige Brown Jarreau’s From the Lab Bench began as a blog about science and public engagement. Over time it has focused more on the image that people have of scientists and how researchers present themselves to the public.
Who are you writing for?
It seems counter-intuitive, but in the first instance you are writing for yourself. If you aren’t getting satisfaction from it, it will be hard to keep blogging. Beyond that, your initial audience will be people who know you personally or through social media – friends, family, colleagues and students.
Having a sense of your intended audience will help to provide some focus to your writing. Inger Mewburn’s Thesis Whisperer provides advice for people writing a thesis. That’s a pretty specific audience.
Why are you writing?
Are you seeking to engage with a non-academic audience? That’s the approach that Jen Martin takes with Espresso Science – strong shots of interesting information. Are you providing a public service to colleagues? That’s the approach that Tseen Khoo and I take with Research Whisperer – providing advice on gaining research funding. Are you seeking to disabuse misconceptions regarding your field? Are you chronicling your frustrations with your own work? Each of these approaches has a different energy and will give your writing a different flavour.
Pat Thomson’s blog, Patter, provides excellent advice on how to improve your academic writing. During the pandemic, she shifted her focus to helping research students make it through the disruption and disquiet.
To my mind, the one golden rule is ‘protect yourself’. Academia can be a hostile place. The unwritten code of conduct provides an object lesson of how things can go wrong. Be careful to try to understand what will be acceptable in your situation. Keep in mind that you don’t have to say who you are. The anonymous Xykademiqz provides a picture of their life and their work without every giving away their identity.
You don’t have to do it alone, either. Blogging with a friend or colleague can help to reduce the workload and anxiety around publishing your work to the world. Joining a large community of bloggers who are interested in the same topic can help to provide you for a framework for working.
You can publish your blog wherever find most convenient. While most people build their blogs on WordPress, Medium or their own website, people build great blogs on Facebook, Instagram, Flicker or any site that gives you space to write. The university will provide you with blog space.
Invisible Farmer built their blog on Facebook. Most people don’t think of Facebook as a blogging platform – more a place for quick updates and cat pics. But their 500 – 1,000 word posts about women farmers have attracted thousands of views.
One of the lovely things about posting this was reconnecting with some of the authors of those blogs. Kate Bowles (@KateMfD) and Tamson Pietsch (@cap_and_gown) had some really interesting things to say. Here is a flavour of the conversation.
You can see more at this collection of tweets that arose from the original article.
I also found out that Pat Thomson had just published a short series, ‘so you want to blog’. I’d missed that. I was glad to go back and read them. Pat writes clearly and I always learn something.
- Mewburn, Inger, and Pat Thomson. “Why Do Academics Blog? An Analysis of Audiences, Purposes and Challenges.” Studies in Higher Education 38, no. 8 (October 1, 2013): 1105–19.
- Jarreau, Paige. “All the Science That Is Fit to Blog: An Analysis of Science Blogging Practices.” PhD, Louisiana State University, 2015.
- What viral means for us, by Jonathan O’Donnell on the Research Whisperer, 4 October 2016.
- How to run a blog for 8 years and not go insane, by Inger Mewburn on the Thesis Whisperer, 11 March 2018.
- Things it has taken me 8 years to learn, by Tseen Khoo on the Research Whisperer, 19 June 2019.