3 lessons on Academic Blogging

By Yvonne Siemann

Francesco Martino is a web communications manager at EUI.

At this year’s Neuchâtel Graduate Conference on Migration Studies and Mobility of the NCCR Research Center in Neuchâtel/Switzerland, he gave a workshop with the topic “Communicating your research”. During the workshop he presented several tools for academic blogging, but did also give some advice for the publication process. For more information, you can also have a look at Francesco Martino’s personal website. 

What is the advice you would give to a PhD student who wants to start a research blog?

Before you start you should define your audience very well. Then you need to define goals that you want to achieve and tools to measure it. You should not aim just at page views, or likes but you should set concrete goals, like for example more people attending your conference, more people reading your books or more people commenting on the latest findings that you achieved in your research. Maybe you train yourself to write blog posts effectively or on how to use images. Some of those aspects you can learn yourself. But some things you should delegate to experts, such as graphic design issues or choosing the right platform, whether to blog with the tools of your university or on a platform like wordpress.com or medium.com. That’s a decision which requires technical skills and experience.

Making good online communication is not easy. You can end up being one of the million people who get very excited when they start a blog and in the end it’s just fading away. So it’s a good idea to adopt patterns. You could for example publish every morning an update about the events of the week or about the most important press articles relevant for your research. Or you could upload every Wednesday an update about migration from the Middle East to Germany. Write about something specific you are an expert on and avoid to just repost what has already been said in the news.

One thing I would recommend researchers is to learn how to use images, like how to pick images. Unless it’s really relevant don’t use stock photos, but use real photos instead. The best solution is, if you can, to take a photo yourself about something that supports what you’re writing about. Another aspect here is copyright issues. You should learn how to search and use images in compliance with copyright policies. Google and Flickr offer you tools to find pictures that are licensed under the creative commons license.

All these blog platforms are communication tools, so the real value is not the tool but the information in it. One thing that I would recommend to you is to choose a platform with an import and export functionality. For example, if you start your blog on wordpress.com you need to check if you can later move your blog into your university network. You are the owner of the information unless you sell it or sign an agreement that states differently.

According to you, what is the benefit of research blog writing?

In my opinion, you can get back three things from blog writing. One is what I call ethic: you are the specialist in your subject. Today, there is so much need for well informed and culturally advanced opinions on subjects that matter for all people, for example Brexit or migration: What is the situation, what are the options, what are the possibilities?

That leads us to the second point: digital change has shifted trust from top-down information to peer communication, so a blog could be a good way of communicating to your peers in an accessible and direct way.  That could pay back with your web reputation in terms of authority.

The third aspect is networking. Those tools are extremely powerful to connect and collaborate with people. Through the creation of a blog or the use of social media you might find somebody in Australia working on something extremely relevant for you and then you write a paper together. If you publish an academic report it will be published maybe in two years and then in four years somebody will read it and cite you.

In the presentation you mentioned “clarity” to be something central, please explain.

Many times I end up discussing with researchers who say: “I have to write a blog post and you told me it should not be longer than 500 words, but my topic is complex, I can’t just dumb it down to 500 words!” My answer is always: never ever for any reason dumb it down. If it’s complex, please keep it complex. But try to communicate in a clear way. If something is complex, you can start your blog post just explaining in a clear way and guide the reader through the ideal path until he or she can understand better.

I once heard a nice sentence; unfortunately I don’t remember who said it. It is the following: “I wrote a long letter because I didn’t have time to write a short one.” Clarity requires a lot of time. In the worst case scenario something complex can’t be explained in a clear and concise way even by pointing and referencing external sources. Then maybe it’s not something for a blog post. If the content is not adaptable, don’t force it.

 

Yvonne Siemann is a PhD candidate at the University of Lucerne. Her thesis deals  with Japanese descendants and their identity constructions in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.
Within the IMISCOE PhD Network Yvonne is a member of the soundboard and editor and contributor to the IMISCOE PhD Blog.

 

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