After reading Nosemonkey’s blogging introduction I thought to continue with some useful tips that will make your blogging experience easy and enjoyable. You might have noticed that everything in blogging is a bit different from traditional ways of publishing. So, this should be the first post in a small series that covers some basic concepts and tools that will (hopefully) help you to become a famous academic blogger!
Personally I have learnt a lot through blogging and I want to encourage you to experiment with new technologies. And, in a way, blogging is a fun way to learn new things! If you are unsure about some basic functions on ‘Ideas on Europe’ do check out the very useful FAQs here.
Images: Be creative and think of something called copyright!
A very common problem for every blogger is to find a suitable picture for the post. You might have noticed that ‘Ideas on Europe’ has a visual component – so I assume that if you want to get featured on top of the page, a picture might increase your chances. But it is often difficult to think of a nice image especially when writing about ‘boring’ topics like politics. You do not want to have flags, buildings or faces of politicians in every blog posts. So try to be creative with your choice of pictures. Maybe you want to practice your photoshop or gimp (the free alternative!) skills. It also gives you finally a reason to take this Professional Development course on photo editing…Anyway, a good example is Euroblogger Jon Worth who often comes up with very funny pictures for his posts, so I recommend you to browse through his blog to find some inspiration.
Another problem is copyright. So, how to find pictures and images that can be used legally ? The answer is to search with Flickr Advanced Search and/or Google Advanced Image Search. In flickr tick the box “Only search within Creative Commons” and in Google change the “not filtered by license” drop down menu. Now all your image results can be used legally. However, be polite and link and/or mention the source – the principle is pretty much like a reference in academia! It might be interesting for you learn more about “Creative Commons“, easily one of the most interesting internet developments! And there is also a great search engine that searches Creative Commons content across different platforms. So make sure you bookmark it!
Shock! Horror! Headlines!
Try to think like a journalist when writing your post! Your article should be easy to read, not too long and it should have a good headline! Especially on a platform like Ideas on Europe with (hopefully) a lot of bloggers and readers it is important to stand out. Moreover, academic language is often rather dull and full with acronyms and jargon. A catchy headline is often the key to get other people interested in your articles and your topics. Try not to copy the title from your conference paper or from the article you just got published.
What about a question that summarises your point? Or a funny quotation, a comparison or a reference to popular culture? Just be creative!
Blogging = Reading + Writing + Linking + Commenting
Blogging is like a debate. You think, you talk, you listen, you respond,… maybe even a discourse (depending on your definition…). So, how does it work in the blogging world? - It is a combination or writing, reading, linking and commenting (and thinking – well, at least sometimes).
Let’s start with the reading element. Try to familiarise yourself with RSS. It is widespread online, just look out for the logo (left) on websites and in your browser. RSS is probably the most powerful system to follow news as well as blogs! (I also use it to keep myself updated on academic journal releases and announcements) If you are not a regular user of a RSS feedreader I strongly encourage you to sign up for one of the services and start using RSS today. It will not only change your life but it will also make your work as an academic and blogger much easier! There are a lot of RSS readers out there: The most known ones are Google Reader, Netvibes, Bloglines, Pageflakes, iGoogle, but you can also follow RSS in your email programme such as Outlook or Thunderbird or get a firefox add-on!
If you are still not convinced, why not watch a short video? Maybe the common craft show (btw: they have made lots of other great videos!) will convince you in 3min and 44 seconds: Video: RSS in Plain English
If you don’t want to follow too many blogs, just subscribe to the feed of Ideas on Europe and maybe the editor’s choice of bloggingportal.eu – both should give you good overview about the blogging scene without overloading your feedreader. (conflict of interest declaration: I am involved in the development of bloggingportal.eu)
In academia we generally write a lot, so we assume that we know how to write. But blogging is not academic writing. I would suggest to think of journalism instead. So try to write in a journalistic style. Try to make a point. Be opinionated. If a piece gets too long, why not split the post and publish the second part later? Always think of the audience you want to reach. Lots of good points about what to write and how to write it can be found here and here.
And don’t be afraid to write a short blog post. I think Jacob Christensen’s blog “Notes of a trailer park political scientist” is a good example of how to write short but witty posts.
Personally I don’t want to read academic articles or abstracts on ‘Ideas on Europe’ ‘and there is a very simple reason for it: I read that stuff on a daily basis. I think we rather should try to frame debates around research conclusions or put them in context with other events. It is always a challenge to explain your research to a non-academic audience (which will also read ‘Ideas on Europe’). I think Nosemokey explains very well how blogging should be approached.
I think it is important that you enjoy blogging and this does not necessarily mean it has to be connected to your academic interests. For example, writing a short comment on a recent event can be very liberating. Blogs often (successfully!) criticise reports of the traditional media (just think of EU reporting!). And I guess “informed analysis, comment, dialogue and debate on all things European” leaves enough room to experiment with different topics and styles!
Another advice: Do not write your blog posts in Microsoft Word and copy/paste it into wordpress, it usually messes up the html code. So if you can’t get used to another tool, at least use the “paste special” option! And of course think a bit of graphics and colours, fonts etc. It just doesn’t look professional if you use different fonts or different font colours, and it is not nice to read…
Networking through linking and commenting.
Think about your linking strategy. A couple of months ago Julien Frisch wrote a blog post about this and I agree with Julien that links are “the core element of virtual interaction” – Let me explain:
(1) Links are used to interact with other blogs or articles, so links are a networking tool. The technology behind it is called “trackbacks” and “pingbacks“. The important thing is that this kind of thing is carried out automatically on ‘Ideas on Europe’. However, you will notice small notifications below your posts that show your incoming links from other blogs. If you link to another blog, the other blog gets automatically notified (some exceptions apply). You can use links to refer to blog posts, newspaper articles, press releases, online encyclopedias or academic papers or reports. Pretty much like a referencing tool.
(2) Links are also incredibly useful to provide some background information to your readers. Blog posts should not be too long, so try to use links to explain things. At the end of the day links are one of the main differences between traditional publishing and online publishing. So don’t be afraid to use it.
Comments are a central part of blogging (read the official ‘Ideas on Europe’ ‘comment policy here). The real interesting content of a blog can often be found in the comments where people are engaged in a more or less civil debate. Especially on a community platform like “Ideas on Europe” we should use this to a maximum as there are a lot of knowledgeable and helpful people in our audience. Again, it can also be labelled “networking”. Get in touch with people and topics you find interesting. Do answer to your comments and try to engage in a debate. Just remember: It is a nice feeling to get a constructive comment. And in order to make ‘Ideas on Europe’ an enjoyable place for debate we should all try to write comments in a polite and civil fashion. I would advice you to keep an eye on the comments and one way to do that is to subscribe to the comment feed.
Isn’t blogging like a UACES conference? You participate by giving a paper (= your blog and your posts). You respond to questions from the floor (= responding to comments) You go to panels that interest you (= reading other blog posts), you talk to the people that do similar research (= you leave a comment on their blogs and engage in a debate), you respond to other research (= you link to other posts). Then a “socialisation” process takes place. You start knowing each other, at the next UACES conference you meet personally and, from my own blogging experience I can assure you that you will think you know the person already. It is great way to begin a small talk, get to know each other, maybe even work together… in other words: Blogging can become the perfect networking tool for academics!
to be continued…
(please note: this is a bad example of a blog post: no catchy title, alibi images, post is a bit too long, too many things covered, probably not very controversial, …)