Part 3

How not to blog

This part will address a very important topic – What a Blog Is Not! This is especially relevant for researchers who have been trained to write for particular forms of media that are completely wrong for social media and blogs.  There is nothing so hard as to shed old habits.

A Blog Is Not A Publication

Of course a collection of good blog posts can be turned into a publication eventually, but it is important to realize that this is not the primary function of a blog. Nor the secondary. In fact, it comes way, way down the list.

The blog is not a Scientific Journal and it should not be treated as such. What researchers need to do when they blog is to relax, lower the walls to the outside world and most importantly, let the passion and enthusiasm and wonder shine through. We are all schooled to think of the act of writing as the culmination of a research effort, where results are made public. Preferably unassailable results. That text is the most boring and counterproductive thing you can post on a blog!

While it is better to try to aim for writing a popular science text, you are still on the wrong track if you still picture it as published print material. A blog post is not a finished and closed product, meant to be digested by a silent public. When blog posts work best they come to life after the posting, in the comment section, or by being linked to and discussed by other bloggers. Preferably you should be actively engaged with your text after it is “published”. It should be a start, not an end.

Your most difficult challenge is to relax and write, don’t measure each word, don’t spend an inordinate amount of time perfecting an argument that leaves no room for discussion. A blog is alive, it is a growing thing, a place of creativity. Like a forest it is not about the individual trees/posts, but about the ecosystem you create over time and the other who find a fertile place to hang out. It’s not about a singular amazing text you’ve written, but about creating a place that people want to return to, where interesting things happen, where they feel welcome and included. Where your readers and you build a relationship, where there is room for socializing.

A blog is not a monologue

Put down the megaphone! It can feel incredibly liberating to be the omnipotent professor of your digital domain, but this is not a lecture hall. Nor is it the National Geographic magazine. The number 1 rule of blogging?

Don’t write too long!

A large number of short posts are infinitely better than a few posts spanning 2000 words. People don’t read blogs that way, no matter how well you write. If they have to keep scrolling down, odds are they have already stopped reading and jumped to another web site.

Long posts are also bad because they leave little room for the reader to feel they have something to add or contribute. Don’t spend time trying to write the perfect exposition, explaining every aspect, crafting a watertight argument. This is by far the most counterproductive thing you can do if you want readers and comments. Try to leave openings, ask questions, admit your shortcomings, bring up stuff that makes you curious. Yes, you are an authority on your subject, but you are not the only authority out there and you are not the authority on everything. And no one expects you to be. One of the best uses of a blog is getting input from others, in your own or different fields. People who might have additional information, or a different take on a particular issue.

Imagine that you are seated at a dinner table – if you have something interesting to tell your companions do so, but you don’t expect to be the only person talking all night do you? If you do, you will see these dinner invitations stop coming.

You may write longer posts sometimes if the subject calls for it, but keep these posts the exception rather than the rule. If what you want is to write long informative texts that lays out explanations, and you are not interested in discussions, then I suggest you focus on a more static home page, or that you try your hand at writing articles for magazines. These are excellent ways to disseminate information as well. But if you plan to have a blog, you need to have slightly different priorities if you want it to be read.

Of course, opening up for discussion also means dealing with one of the things that make presumptive science bloggers the most nervous. What happens if we open up a door to our Ivory Tower and let the Raging Hordes enter?

In Part 4 I will deal with the blogger’s best enemy and worst friend: the commenter.


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