Developing the habit of writing is probably the best reason for starting a blog.
- Short posts are actually better.
- Not using visuals is considered weirder than using them.
- Work in progress is totally acceptable.
- Bullet points improve readability.
People who blog about their academic work in progress find it very rewarding. It develops that habit of writing. And it helps build a network of people interested in similar issues. Blogging can lead to opportunities to collaborate, new ideas, even publication or job opportunities.
You don’t even have to blog about your research.
I once attended a workshop for PhD supervisors in which we talked about “how soon to get students writing”. A physicist in the room was adamant that it was never too soon: “Write letters to their grandma. I don’t care. But they need to write.”
You could blog about knitting, quilting, food, novels you are reading (if you aren’t a literary scholar, in which case, that is blogging about your research), birds, gardening … In addition to building a habit of writing, you might even develop a community of friends who aren’t (all) academics.
Your blog = your rules
You probably have all kinds of worries about blogging. Havi Brooks at The Fluent Self has a great series of posts that address many of them. I highly recommend her Blogging Therapy. (The link is to the last in the series, which contains links to the whole thing. )
Just because you put your ideas out there doesn’t mean you lose control of the conversation. You can (and probably should) moderate the comments. You can even give guidance to commentors at the bottom of each post. See Hook & Eye for sample guidelines for comments.
Here are some draft comment guidelines you are welcome to borrow and modify for your purposes:
I need this blog to be a safe space where I can explore ideas. I’d love to hear your thoughts but please be gentle.
I’m still working through my ideas. If you have comments that would help me do that, I’d love to hear them.
One day I’ll have a thick skin and be able to take criticism, even if it isn’t as diplomatic as I’d like. Today is not that day. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this in a constructive and supportive tone.
I encourage comments on this blog, but if you don’t have anything nice to say, please don’t say anything at all.
You can also password protect your posts and only give the password to a select group of people. Remember, the point is to write. If you aren’t ready for readers, that’s okay.
That said, for many writing feels pointless without readers. I will address the question of building a readership in a separate post.
How to get started blogging
There are a few free platforms that will let you set up a blog pretty quickly and easily. Google runs a platform called Blogger. The folks at Automattic have WordPress.com. You can always move your content somewhere else later if you like. If you want to get a bit more serious you can buy a domain name, get some hosting, and use WordPress.org, Squarespace, or some other option to build your own website.
Blogging as I describe it here could also be done in other ways: commit to writing longer posts on your Facebook wall (perhaps using the Notes feature); use TinyLetter.com; Write on Medium.com … suggest other options in the comments.
Finding it hard to protect your writing time?
You are not alone. It’s like exercise. Some people can make a commitment to exercise, figure out what they’ll do, and do it regularly at home, by themselves. Personally, if I don’t sign up for a class, I don’t do it. The Academic Writing Studio is like a yoga studio for academic writers: A Meeting With Your Writing provides synchronous classes to help you keep your commitment to write regularly, other resources help you set priorities and boundaries so writing fits into your schedule, and electronic forums provide community support. Join us.
This series of posts originally published in March 2011. Edited Jan 26, 2017.