Academic Blog Basics

The first element of successful blogging is deciding on what you want to do with your blog and what you want to say.

This sense of purpose will evolve over the first few postings but you should try to create a sense of an ongoing project rather than a sense of a set of unconnected posts.

Obviously you are blogging because it is an assigned part of this course but the difference between getting a pass and getting a high grade for this project will be the difference between those who have gone through the motions and those who have used the opportunity to develop and express their own ideas.

A blog can help you do (at least) three things:

  • develop a personal narrative on a topic of interest
  • develop an archive of links and material on that topic
  • develop a public forum where you can engage with others about these ideas

Format

A blog has several key formal elements that you should pay attention to:

Blog Title: this should communicate your concerns clearly without being literal. So although these blogs are about writing features try to come up with a personal take on this with your title.

Blog Tagline: a blog will often have a quote or tagline that adds a bit of personal flavor to your site. It can be a slogan, a description or a quote from someone.

Time Stamp: at the bottom of each post is more than just an added extra it is at the heart of blogging which at its most basic is a series of posts in reverse chronological order. The time stamp references the place of each post in the evolving conversation and allows readers to gage the currency of the blog. This is why regular posts are important.

Post Headings: post headings should be direct and self explanatory without being boring. Remember they will often show up in searches and feeds on their own so they need to have some self contained communicative power.

Categories: are a key element of academic blogging. Each post should be given a category so that over time you can build connections between posts with similar concerns. The Category list also provides a map of the range of concerns that you are dealing with on your blog. The trick is to be specific with your categories without being so specific that you end up with a different category for every post. Try to make sure your categories are reasonably specific but not so specific that you will only have one post under each.

Blogroll: this provides a list of links in your sidebar to other blogs that you respect or believe have something worthwhile to say about your areas of concern. These will often be links to other blogs but will also include links to relevant sites as well. This is a key element because it shows how connected you have become to a border web debate on issues which concern you.

In-post links: are the key to good blogging. A successful blog is part of a conversation and links are evidence that you are relating your own ideas to the ideas of others. Links will include links to other student blogs, media sites, other commentary blogs, theoretical texts and web sites of professional interest.

Comments: are a way that others can provide feedback. When this occurs it is often good to bring their ideas into the main body of your discussions by making some comment in response.

Style

Blogs are written in a personal conversational style. A good blog entry follows the normal rules of good writing:

  • it communicates clearly and has a purpose
  • it engages the reader through polished expression
  • it gets to the point succinctly

Blog posts for an academic purpose should also pay attention to the cogency of arguments presented:

  • they should be personal and express your take on things but
  • they should not be rants that present opinion without any evidence or analysis.

News blogs and other journalistic projects follow the standard rules of good journalistic writing.

Blog postings are normally short:

  • they should normally be between 300 – 600 words.
  • if you find yourself going over the 600 word mark try to think of a way of breaking the post into two separate posts.

This is a general rule and occasionally it may be appropriate to do longer postings when you are comparing links from several different sources.

Types of postings

Blogging is a very flexible medium. You can use it to present a range of different types of postings.

Comment post: is the standard type of post which begins with a link to a media report or another blog and then provides comment and analysis on the issue.

Comparative post: is a longer version of the comment post which links together several reports around a similar theme and provides some commentary.

Bookmark post: is a short post with a link to a report or other blog entry with little or no commentary. These are a way of adding to threads that you have already begun or a way of beginning something which you can come back to in more detail when you have more time. They will be composed of:

  • a descriptive heading
  • a short introduction: “More on the XXX affair from the Guardian:…” or “XXX has an interesting take on blah blah that I discussed in last week’s post, he argues that its really a journalist’s job to blah blah…”
  • a short (200 words) quote from a key part of the article.

A reflective post: sums up some of your own thinking about a particular issue and will probably be used to bring together some ideas that have been explored in previous posts. In this case the links may primarily be to your own previous posts.

Descriptive post: a short description of something you have noticed or an event that has happened to you that has relevance to the topic being covered.

Etiquette

Always acknowledge your sources: the web is about linking and the vibrancy of the conversation depends on the integrity of the participants.

Engage in vigorous discussion but never “flame” or personally attack people for their points of view. Be careful of your style of discussion and make sure that you do not offend with the forthrightness of your views. The standard rules of defamation apply online.

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