Updated: Mar 22
You’ve got your website; soon social media platforms such as Facebook will quake at its inevitable popularity, envious of your stylish graphics and good ethical reputation.
But what will your content be? The website can be a great place to tell people about yourself and your research, centralise contact information, and store materials that you want to share publicly. Websites are not static, though, and thrive on regular updates. A simple and effective way to keep this up is through a blog.
You’re not obliged to keep a blog for 23 Things but we highly recommend it. It can be a space to explore your own thinking, gather feedback and ideas from others, and point new audiences towards your work. If you didn’t already create a blog when you set up your site (e.g., Wix, Weebly, Wordpress, etc.), simply follow this tutorial to get started:
To get you thinking about whether you might blog and what about, we’ve recruited Simon Usherwood, a prominent political blogger (and professor of politics at the University of Surrey) as our Voice of Experience. You can follow his blogging through his website and Twitter: @Usherwood
Three reasons to blog (and one not to)
I blog. Quite a lot.
Pretty much every week for the past nine years I have written at least two blog posts for my own sites – one on European politics, one on learning and teaching – and often with a guest post for someone else thrown in on top.
So you might expect me to give you a huge sell on blogging. Which I kind of will, but not unreservedly, because it’s important to go into this with your eyes open.
But largely I’m saying to you: try it, you might like it and it might be good for you.
Reason one to try it: it helps you to think
As an academic, I’m guessing you have a bunch of ideas rolling around your head. Big thoughts, little thoughts, about this, about that.
Blogging is a great way to get those thoughts out of your head and moving towards audiences and discussion.
For all my practical experience, I still mainly blog for myself: to put the ideas down on paper/screen is to get beyond self-debate, explain the logic and/or consequences of something and to see where it goes.
For both the areas I habitually write on, there are no hard-and-fast rules, but evolving situations that invite reflection and discussion.
As a short blob of text, you’re not trying to solve the world, but rather to cast some light on a question that matters to you. It’s a bit like those interesting side conversations you have in a seminar or at a conference, but in writing.
The mere act of committing to a text forces you to think some more about it and, potentially, to open up new lines of inquiry. Most obviously, I’ve solved a number of problems with my teaching over the years simply by trying to explain my problems with my teaching. I’ve also laid the groundwork for most of my recent academic publications in blogs too.
Reason two to try it: it helps you to write
Now this one might say more about me than you, but I have found writing to be a pain.
I used to sit in front of my computer for hours ‘back in the day’, struggling to find the right words to get going. Once that came, I was off, but that initial inertia was really hampering me.
Blogging – and especially blogging to a schedule – has really helped with that. My weekly commitments came from other places – a need to generate regular new content for our sites, primarily – plus that was always going to be constrained by all the other stuff I have to do.
Time is finite, so farting about it was not an option.
Now, with much practice, I can throw together 800 words in maybe 30 minutes.
Sometimes that shows, but again that is to miss the point of a blog.
It’s not about perfection, but about immediacy and engagement: what’s happening now and what can I contribute to that?
Indeed, some of the most successful posts I’ve written – in terms of response and subsequent engagement – have been the most speedily written, mainly because they got close enough to what was needed for that moment.
Yes, it’s a different style of writing from standard academic prose – as you’ve noticed – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing: too often colleagues think that being abstruse is a good thing, when clarity of communication should surely be our goal.
Reason three to try it: it helps you to get known
A decade ago, I wasn’t bothering anyone with my work. It was very niche and my name had very limited recognition, even in my subject area.
That was great for getting to sightsee around conference cities, but less so for making a contribution, which is presumably what we’re all trying to do here.
Blogging has played a very big part of changing that.
Yes, Brexit did make my research much more relevant, but the degree to which I’ve been able to use that has been based on being a competent user of blogs and other social media.
Put simply, if the only way you can respond to a situation is to write an academic journal article that will appear maybe a year down the line, then you will lose out in setting the terms of debate to those who can produce a blog post the same day as the situation.
Yes, that immediate response might not be all there is to say, but it’s a starting point for debate.
It’s also a starting point for engagement: social media is a great way to meet people for your work. Over the years, I’ve been able to exchange directly with a huge number of academics, practitioners, journalists, interested members of the public and more.
That has simultaneously spread the reach of my work and enriched it through a better understanding of the various positions people might have.
And one reason not to do it: time
All of this sounds great, but it comes with costs. And time is the central one.
If I bothered to tot up the words I’ve written for blogs over the years, I’d easily have a couple of books-worth. But I don’t have those books.
It’d sound self-serving to say that universities are still behind the curve on recognising the value of this path of dissemination and engagement, but clearly a blog counts for much less than a publication.
Blogging takes time away from other things you might want/need to do, so you need to acknowledge the opportunity cost involved.
In my case, that has worked. My improved ability to write and the enrichment of my contacts and research networks has more than justified the time and effort – and yes, occasional “what on earth can I possibly write about this week” moments – but your mileage may vary.
But you won’t know if you don’t try.
Basics of the blog
Your blog can be about whatever suits your fancy – or about many topics. The best way to get started is to just give it a try, combined with looking at how other people have done it.
In terms of practicalities, do think about who your audiences might be (and what you want or don’t want to share publicly).
It’s a good idea to ‘tag’ or ‘label’ your posts, e.g. ‘Thing 4’ so that others can easily follow your blog and find specific posts. Some guidance for using tags and categories can be found here, or you may like specific instructions for Wix, Weebly or Wordpress.
We’d like to point you towards some academic blogs that have become regular and well-known platforms for their founders, including some that started life as part of 23 Things. Have a look around and see what sort of things are posted, the tone taken, and what sort of conversations they promote. Please do share your own favourite academic, professional or practitioner blogs on the forum.
Once you have your blog, share it with your pod and bounce some ideas around about what you’d like to write about. It’d be a great idea to agree to make guest posts on each other’s blogs further down the line.
Good luck – we look forward to reading more about it!