The Whys and Hows of Academic Blogging

So you are thinking about starting an academic blog, or perhaps contributing posts to someone else’s blog or the blog of an institution. You might well be asking yourself if it is really that different from other types of academic writing.

This is a good question, but it is the wrong place to start. You should first be asking yourself, why bother?

Image by Becca Clark. Design by Tatiana Vorotnikova

Why write an academic blog?

The first decision you need to make is whether your blog is going to be scholarship or service focused. Or, as Saunders et al put it when they were discussing their own blogs and the reasons behind them, is it going to be a community blog or a communication blog?

A communication-focused blog

In writing a blog to address these questions, you are performing a service to those outside of academia and writing a communication-focused blog (or blog post).

A community-focused blog

Of course, another reason why you might want to talk to others in the academic community is to promote yourself — yes, you can publish brilliant papers in the hope of becoming a recognised authority, but if only a very narrow circle of people read it, how will you advance your point of view? You might also want to push forward a particular aspect of your field within the subject area as a whole, promote your institution as a place of cutting-edge research and academic thought, or make sure voices that are often under-represented get heard.

Blogs are also a good place to write about something that perhaps doesn’t fit into your current project or isn’t worth a paper in its own right but that people in the academic community would appreciate, or perhaps benefit from.

And that might be not only details of the research itself, but how you went about it. It could include sharing useful tools or resources. Or even be about career-building tips you want to pass on. An early survey of academic blogging found that many academic blogs focused a lot more on the academic environment itself than its product, and even now this sort of blog is well-represented in search results for ‘top academic blogs’.

Transformative blogging

How to write an academic blog post

If no-one has to read it, then it needs to be as readable as possible. Part of this is about making it engaging, which can only be a good thing in terms of learning how to hold readers’ attention in all types of writing.

But this is not the only consideration.

The thing about writing a blog is that your reader will be looking at a screen to process your text, which makes it harder going. You need to make some allowances. You should also remember that some readers might find you via search engines. Search engine optimisation (or SEO) is not just about stuffing your text with words or phrases someone might be searching for. No, search engines such as Google also look out for features of clear, well-organised, online-friendly writing in the posts they choose to show to readers.

One last word of warning. Yes, readability is important, and yes, being interesting as well as informative is desirable, too, but you do want to remember an academic blog is still an academic genre. Beware of overdoing the clickbait language or the deliberately controversial nature of your posts!

Online writing tips

Titles

  • Try to balance intrigue with being unnecessarily populist

Subtitles

  • It also helps casual readers find the bit of the text they are interested in

Paragraphing

  • 150 words or fewer is a reasonable length for an online paragraph

Sentence length

  • Balance long sentences with short ones — avoid too many long sentences in a row

Post length

  • The recommendation is often to keep it at no more 1,000 words for readability
  • Currently search engines are preferring longer posts, 1,750 words for example is a good average
  • It can be longer, even 5,000 words, if your post is definitive
  • Longer posts need to prioritise readability in other areas

Style / register

  • Use questions to invite an internal dialogue with your ideas
  • Have an eye-catching opening paragraph
  • Use informal devices such as CAPITALS to emphasise
  • Use bullet points for concise and easy to read lists
  • Avoid really unusual fonts or colours

Visuals

  • Visuals help to break up the text and improve readability
  • They also stand out when you share your post on social media
  • Copyright free images exist, for example, at pixabay.com

Jargon

Citations

It’s often a good idea to end with what the advertising copywriters have named a ‘call to action’ — and since the action bloggers, including academic bloggers, often want is engagement, then ask for it directly.

So…

How many of these tips make sense to you? How many do you find challenging? And how many can you find in the blog post they are attached to? Please don’t hesitate to comment below.

By Heather Belgorodtseva

Heather Belgorodtseva is an EFL Teacher and Teacher Trainer. She has been involved in online communities since 2000 and started her first blog in 2006. Currently she can be found writing about discourse analysis and online communication at Those Sharp Words.

The Academic Writing Center at the Higher School of Economics, Moscow, provides writing support to everyone involved in research.

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