Social media-friendly academics recently enjoyed a scathing take on social media engagement in the Guardian’s Academics Anonymous column. The writer found little use for social media in their academic role, bemoaning the use of mobile phones at conferences, and saw Twitter and Instagram communication as antithetical to core academic work. He or she was a “serious academic”, far too intellectual for such frivolity.
Academic twitter responded with serious and jovial rebuttals. Some highlighted the use of social media in democratising academia and improving the accessibility of conferences for those with aural or visual impairments or restricted mobility. Others simply thought the original writer was pompous and judgemental.
My next ‘How to write’ instalment is directed firmly at those who are not “serious academics”. I’m embracing the meta with a blog post on blog posting.
1 Do what you want to do
If you are a serious Guardian-style academic, don’t blog. While academics are increasingly understanding that having an online profile can enhance your impact and visibility, it clearly isn’t for everyone. If you don’t like blogs, don’t like social media or don’t have anything you particularly want to say, then there’s no need to blog. Only do it if you enjoy it and you have something (or a set of issues) that you would like to discuss. If you don’t enjoy it, then don’t be a numpty and criticise people who do.
2 Find your voice
One of the most important elements of blogging is being authentic and most of that comes from your voice. Practice writing as yourself, rather than the impersonalised version of yourself you put into academic reports and papers. Read other blogs and have a think about what style you connect with. Do you like your bloggers cheeky or do you prefer no nonsense informative? I like a bunch of different blogs – the researchwhisperer, thesiswhisperer and realclimate are all rockstar blogs, but have different tones, as do their individual contributors.
3 Keep it snappy
A blog isn’t a paper and it can’t be written in the same way. Use language that is appropriate for your target audience, use shorter sentences and paragraphs and keep the whole piece punchy. Don’t wait until the end to say what you want to say, make sure the important information is at the start. Don’t follow my example here. You can find great examples of how to deliver the important information early in newspaper opinion pieces or on The Conversation.
4 Be the blogger you want to read in the world
It should be obvious, but I’ll make it clear anyway – don’t use a blog to criticise your colleagues, make snide comments about your drunk uncle or comment on the public’s intelligence. If you use a blog to make comments about specific people, they will find out and most likely won’t appreciate it.
While social media can be a great forum for having conversations and a bit of honesty is valuable, be cautious. Don’t identify people by their names and be careful when focusing on negatives. A difficult experience can be a great starting point to discuss an important topic but if you are planing a topic that shakes things up, write it down, get others to check it and then sit on it for a few days before posting.
5 Get cracking
If you do like the idea of trying out blogging, then don’t be afraid to set up a page and get cracking. Don’t be dismayed if your readership is only your mum and your mum-in-law. You’ve got to start somewhere! Also, everyone loves to be flattered, so don’t be shy about asking other bloggers you admire for tips or a little help promoting your posts to a bigger audience.