I received these tweets the other day:
— Dr Steven Vaughan (@lawvaughan) October 1, 2016
I didn’t think I could answer it in less than 140-characters, so maybe a blog post might help (well, duh!)
So here is my go at a handy list to help students new to blogging.
1. Choose your platform
When you submit an essay, you don’t get a choice about the media of your submission. You will be told to either hand-in a paper copy, or submit your Word or PDF online.
Blogs are different. You may be told to use a particular platform, such as an institutional WordPress installation, or you could have free rein.
If you have choice, then there are plenty to choose from:
- Self-hosted WordPress site (like this one)
- Google Sites
- even Twitter or Facebook
- and many others
While these platforms are all slightly different, they all have one thing in common: they all allow you to share your ideas with the world.
Plus, don’t worry if you make the wrong choice first off, you can normally change between services
2. Content is king
This one is key. It is really easy to spend hours on how your site looks, but this is secondary to the stuff you put up on there. Your words are far more powerful than your choice of font or the colour of your links.
Don’t get me wrong, good design is important. It needs to appeal to your audience. Well, actually, it needs not to distract from your message.
A key tip: less is more.
3. Having the ideas
I can’t help you with this. This is where *you* come through.
I tend to have lots of ideas for blogs throughout the day (and night), so I try to keep my phone with me to record them. I use Google Keep to make a note of ideas as they come, but I probably only capture about 20% of them.
I currently have about 20 pending ideas and half-written posts on the go – some will get published, others will lay dormant until that inspiration comes back.
A key tip: capture your ideas as soon as you can
4. Know your audience
Writing a blog is different from writing an academic essay. You may think your audience is the same, your tutor, but it isn’t.
A blog is not a short essay.
I don’t know if you have been told, but I often tell my students that they should write their essays at a level that any undergraduate student could understand.
Blogs need to break things down more. You should write for a layperson. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t write about complex things, but you should break things down to make them more understandable.
That said, I write for myself as the audience. I use it as a chance to reflect on my ideas and thoughts.
5. Play nice
Don’t forget that you still need to reference any sources you use. Use the fact a blog is web-based, and create a link to the source as well.
6. Short is sweet
Most academic essays are a few thousand words. Blog posts tend to be somewhere between 250 and 1000 words. Shorter is sweet – don’t waffle and make sure you get straight to the point.
7. Limit your topics
In an essay, you might explore a few key themes or topics and draw conclusions around an issue, in a blog you should explore just one.
If you need to talk about another key theme or topic, then that should be its own new post.
8. Have a play with your writing style
One of the best things about blogs is the informality. This means you can explore your writing styles.
I tend to write very informally in blogs, and not worry too much about academic or formal writing conventions. I keep my sentences short, normally. I start sentences with propositions. And I normally write in the first person.
You may want to have a go at using poetry to get your message across.
Now is your time to experiment.
9. Use different media
In an essay, you just get words. That’s it. Sometimes you might be able to squeeze a cheeky graph or table in your assignment, but that’s a rare treat.
With a blog, you can utilise different media, like images, gifs, videos or audio to present your ideas in different ways.
How about making your blog post a podcast? You could frame it as a conversation between an interviewer and an expert. If you wanted, you could even play both parts if you can do different voices (I can only do a Sean Bean impression, and it’s not that good, see here).
A judicious image can really help explain what you mean – especially as you have so few words to play with.
Emphasis on ‘judicious’
10. Constructing a blog post
Now, I really am giving my secrets away here.
I generally follow a simple pattern for my blog posts. I take a general, relatable example to attract people’s attentions. I then mercilessly shoehorn the topic I want to talk about into the narrative. Once I have made my point, I finally return to the general, relatable point as a conclusion.
For example, here I start with a general comment (in this case the TV programme, Paw Patrol), I show how it parallels my main topic (digital capabilities), and then sum it all up with a conclusion that ties the two together:
So PAW Patrol hasn’t really changed my life, but it has changed my thinking about Digital Capabilities. Now is the time to evaluate and develop your own inner Chase, Marshall, Rocky, Zuma, Rubble, and Skye, to better meet the needs of the digital world, oh and also try not to sing along with the theme tune as you potter around the house… sorry for that!
Similarly, another way is to go for the wide-angle, specific, wide-angle approach. Make a big picture statement in your introduction, then look at one, important theme in the middle, then relate it back to the bigger picture in the conclusion.
Read some posts and work out their ‘style’, then practice writing in the same style.
11. And failing that…
Just write a list.
So that’s that: my top tips for writing a blog post. I’m not sure they will be of any help to anyone, so feel free to pick and choose the advice.
Any questions or comments can be added below, or via twitter (@marcuselliott).