Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Tips on (or Genre Features of) Academic Blogging

I wrote this for a class I taught last year, but I thought it was useful enough to post here.

Academic blog posts can be written in a freer and looser style than traditional academic writing. Feel free to write about academic subjects in a more conversational way – using contractions, slang, and colloquialisms is appropriate, to a degree. You don’t have to do this, but getting your point across is more important than following the conventions of Writing a Good Term Paper or whatever.

Think about how much ground you’re trying to cover. A short blog post (1000 words is more like a maximum than a minimum for blog posts) can only probably cover one issue in detail – don’t try to tackle every aspect of a complex issue, but focus in on what interests you (and readers) the most.

Write for a “general reader.” (Even though multiple editors have told me that no such person exists.) Imagine a well-educated reader who does not know much about your topic – maybe a well-read fellow student who hasn’t studied the things you have. This will mean avoiding jargon and explaining things that might not be familiar to non-specialists.

Linking is one of the great advantages of academic blogging – rather than having to scroll down to a reference list, readers can click right on whatever you want to point them to. There are no rules about how to do this, but in general, it helps to give readers a sense of what they’re getting into when they click – probably at least some combination of author, title, publication, and general topic will be useful. Feel free to link to anything you think will be of interest.

Brevity and readability are probably bigger concerns in blogging than they are in traditional academic writing. Consider writing in relatively short paragraphs. (Speaking of paragraphs, indentation is not necessary and looks weird online – leave a space between paragraphs instead.) The use of lists and bullet points can be beneficial in getting your point across.

On a related note, images and other design considerations, like headings, fonts, the use of space, and so on, are much more important in blogging than in traditional academic writing. Think about how the visual organization of your post impacts the reader. Would supplementing a post with an image of the thing you’re writing about help readers understand your topic? Would headings help readers understand where you make shifts in topic or argument? Could visuals that are not directly related to your argument add something to the post? 

(Don't forget to use images that you have permission to use without paying for – read this for a useful primer.)

Finally, the following articles offer useful advice on academic blogging in general:
  • Seven reasons why blogging can make you a better academic writer Pat Thomson, Times Higher Education academic-writer
  • Effective Academic Blogging
    Joe Essid, Writer’s Web
  • How to Write an Academic Blog
    Corey Tomsons, Thought Capital