By Mark Carrigan
It can be easy to frame writing online as a distraction from the ‘real work’ of your PhD. Why would you spend time blogging when there are so many other things for you to do? The many arguments people tend to make in this respect are ones about your career. Blogging can extend your professional network, increase your visibility, develop a reputation within your field and help you engage with audiences outside the academy. Furthermore, it can help you do these things much earlier in your career than would otherwise be possible, even before you have finished your PhD or produced any other publications.
What is less frequently recognised is how blogging can help you become a better writer. By offering many more occasions for writing, it gives you extensive practice of writing for an audience. It gives you opportunities for feedback with much greater regularity. It helps keep you connected to your impulse to write when you have something to say, so easily lost in writing projects as complex as journal articles, book chapters or doctoral theses. It helps you develop a routine of writing regularly, for real audiences which ensure you put care into elaborating your thought, without the often inhibiting quality of writing for academic publication.
The key question you have to address if you want to get started is whether you want to start an individual blog or would prefer to guest blog. It is time consuming to build an audience for your own blog, requiring you to provide regular updates and work to promote it through other social media. Popular platforms are WordPress, Blogger, Medium and Tumblr. Key considerations include telling people about your blog, linking it to other social media, facilitating e-mail updates, tagging/categorising your content and using memorable titles with keywords.
If you mainly want a research notebook which you can share reflections on your work, as much for your own benefit as for others, the challenge of building an audience might not be a problem. But if you’re trying to build an audience then it might be easier to try and blog for other sites, with established audiences which ensure readers for your blog post. Here’s a list of academic blogs and online magazines which invite contributions by academics. Each link takes you to the submission page for the publication in question, providing full details about how to submit:
- Open Democracy
- LSE Politics and Policy
- LSE Review of Books
- The Conversation
- Society for Research into Higher Education
- British Educational Research Association
- The Sociological Review
- Discover Society
There are also opportunities within the Faculty of Education. For instance the CPGJ blog (i.e. this one!) and the FERSA blog. Take some time to read these sites in order to get a sense of what they publish, what their motivations are and whether your work would be relevant to them. The next step is to send the editors of a site a short pitch. Here are some things to consider:
- What topic would you like to write about? Is this something the blog will be interested in?
- What expertise do you bring to the issue? Are you informed by your research approach and/or your findings?
- How is your perspective shaped by your research? How will you convey this in the piece?
- Who is the intended audience for the piece? Is the blog you’ve chosen right for this audience?
- How much detail about your research will you include? Is it feasible to include research data?
- Will your blog post be tied to a particular publication? How do you give it additional value if so?
If your pitch is accepted then the editor will work with you to develop your piece. They have experience of what works online and can be useful sources of insight as you plan future writing projects. It might be that follow up articles occur to you in the process of writing your first. It might be that you write on different topics. It might be that you write once, enjoy the experience but decide it doesn’t work for you. It’s important to respect the editor’s time but feel free to ask them advice, as you find your feet in the online sphere. They’ll be used to questions like this.
If you have a few colleagues who share your interests, it is also worth considering starting your own group blog. For instance, I started Sociological Imagination in the second year of my part-time PhD and it was active for over seven years. The main things to consider if you are keen to do this is your theme, policy towards guest posts, division of labour and expectations. Many of the same difficulties apply as starting your own blog but it is simply easier to build an audience when the work is split between a team.