1. Why should doctoral and emerging researchers blog?
Carol: If you are doing a doctorate (or have finished one recently and are working out what and how to write from your thesis) your research is likely to be postioning you at the forefront of knowledge. I know that sounds grand and perhaps a little scary but it is true – you are likely to be doing something which is taking forward the field in some way, whether that is theoretically, methodologically or in terms of practice. Why not tell other people about it? You can use a blog to try out your ideas, give one of your key research insights a run through, or communicate one of your findings to an audience beyond your academic peers, colleagues, mentors and supervisors. A blog is a good way of seeing how it feels to write about your research in a way that communicates with an audience of non-specialists. It will (it should!) help you to firm up the key ‘so what’ questions that underlies any piece of research.
There are, of course, other more instrumental reasons why you should blog. To get your name known. To raise your profile. To help you get a job (by getting your name known). To create impact for your research. All this is great and worthwhile (and increasingly necessary) but, for me, these more instrumental things have got to be backed by the substance of your research. Without the good, solid core that comes from your research it would all be so much hot air and self-puffery. For me, that isn’t a good foundation for an academic career.
The other reason for writing a blog is that you’ll develop new writing skills!
Rachel: It’s a great way of making sure that you’re writing regularly. For me, when I was at the start of my PhD I found it useful as a way of considering the things that I had read, and trying to formulate my thoughts in a coherent and clear way. It keeps your hand in, making you rationalise things that otherwise you might not explore in any great depth. I remember writing a blog post about the new office I had started using in the first year of my PhD, discussing how having a desk and colleagues had been beneficial to my motivation. Later, this led me to the realisation that research environments are a central part of the doctoral experience, which became a chapter in my thesis.
It is also, as Carol says, a great way of showing that you can write for multiple audiences, and that you are capable of completing a concise and ideally ‘punchy’ piece of work which communicates your ideas clearly.
2. What should you blog about?
Carol: Something you are interested in; something you feel passionate about; something you feel you want to tell other people about. The feminist idea that ‘the personal is political’ informs so much of what I do, how I think and how I write. That’s how I’d approach any blog I wanted to write. One of the great things about the Women’s March on the day after the Trump inauguration was that it was the personal is political in action. It was individuals coming together to create connections from many different parts of the world. It required us as individuals to get out of our warm homes and onto the streets. The personal is political in action. Definitely worth doing and definitely worth blogging about.
Rachel: Ideally your research- for me blogging is about trying to get your research out to a wider audience, and reaching people who otherwise wouldn’t hear about it. It does have to feel genuine, also- there has to be passion in your writing, so as Carol says it is useful if the subject matter is something you are personally invested in. It’s important to know your audience, too- do you want to keep it general, or is it aimed just at other researchers in your field? Thinking about audience helps to establish the kind of ‘tone’ as well as the language that you use in blog posts.
3. What should a good blog aim to achieve?
Carol: A good blog should create interest, tell you something you didn’t know, or give a different view or a new angle on something so that it makes you think in a different way. Original research done during your doctoral studies or after as you get shape up your career as an emerging researcher is a great resource in this respect. Begin with a hook line, draw people in, weave your research in and give your views and opinions. A blog can be a positive writing vehicle for you to share your research expertise with a wider audience.
Rachel: Quite simply, interest in what you are discussing! You should aim to engage people in a subject that they may not know anything about, getting across your argument in a subtle but engaging way. Where possible, give readers the opportunity to comment on posts, too, as this generates opportunities for a wider discussion based on your initial post.
4. Where should you blog?
Carol: I blog on I-Win for the Gender and Education Association because I believe in the goals and politics of this organisation. I also blog on my institution’s site in the Sheffield Institute of Education, Sheffield Hallam University, where I mix my personal, my academic and my institutional voices together. Every year, I create a closed blog with my students on a Level 5 undergraduate module I run. Each of these blogs does different things for different audiences and has different purposes. It’s useful to keep the audience in mind when writing your blog!
Rachel: I would say wherever you feel your content and ‘voice’ will best fit. It needs to be appropriate to what you want to blog about, quite simply. You may want to start your own blog- but bear in mind this will require more work to gain followers and promote to a wider audience than if you blog for an already-established group or organisation. As well as having my own blog, I have written posts for jobs.ac.uk on their PhD students page, and for the Feminist and Women’s Studies Association. Both organisations have direct links with my research on the career aspirations of women doctoral students.
5. How about style, length and voice?
Style: Chatty, informal, written in the ‘I’.
Length: I would like to say as long as it takes but that is not right! Keep it short and to the point.
Voice: personal and public, so a blog should be well-written, well-structured, and with a clear point you want to get across.
Rachel: I agree with Carol’s points- blogs should be informal, personal and engaging. Consider your audience and keep them in mind as you write- don’t use language or terminology which will preclude understanding. As for length, really posts should be no longer than 800 words otherwise I don’t think your writing can still be called ‘concise’!
6. What are my favourite blogs and why do I like them?
One blog I discovered recently is the LSE impact blog?
There is so much here that is useful.
The Gender and Education Association blog, of course.
Informative, politically engaged, with a sense of feminist community.
There are so many, it’s hard to pick just a few! I really like the Res-sisters blog– they are a feminist collective of early career academics who blog about a range of issues such as challenging inequality within the academy, being feminist academics, and promoting collaboration.
I’ve also really enjoyed reading Ellie Mackin’s blog- she’s an early career researcher who blogs a lot about working in the academy, and life after the PhD.
Both of these blogs are great because they offer personal insights from both the authors but also from contributors at different institutions, on some of the wider issues within academia. They are relevant to me both as a PhD student considering a future in the academy, but also give insight into some of the issues surrounding my doctoral research.
7. What should you avoid when blogging?
Carol: I would say try to avoid pure opinion which is not backed up by any evidence. Avoid prejudice, self-aggrandisement and putting other people down in a hectoring or vicious way. Leave that sort of thing to Donald Trump. Try to find your own way of writing that gets your points across with clarity, authority and passion.
Rachel: Overly-long posts! It’s really off-putting if you have to scroll too far down, and ideally blog writing should be short and to the point- it’s part of the skill of blog writing. I would also say that writing in an overly-scientific way which comes across as detached from the person writing it. For me blogs are supposed to be personal- it’s what makes them engaging and different from other kinds of writing.