Public engagement through blogging: a historian’s guide
Blogging: why blog?
It has become increasingly easy, but also increasingly important for academics to get their written word distributed to a wide audience. Getting your written work read is is a means of improving your intellectual standing among your peers, a way of improving your writing and your job application. Academics such as Mary Beard , Andrew Prescott , Matt Phillpott and academic institutes such as the IHR are all active on the blogging scene, showing how important the blog has become to new early career researchers. On one of Matt Phillpott’s blogs, bloggingforhistorians, he explains the uses of blogs for academics. This post will teach you about the available methods for establishing an online presence to get your work read.
Establishing An Online Presence
There are several ways of establishing an online academic presence. The most important of these to academics is the peer-reviewed article. However, these are not easily accessible to the public, often hidden behind a journal paywall. They also tend to use lots of jargon, not easily readable by readers from different fields. To get your work read by the public, you need to turn to other methods.
Social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, have their place in an academic setting. Social media is best for short comments on articles, discussions and publicising your work. Twitter Chats (Tweet Chats, or Twitter parties) have cropped up in recent years as a good method for generating discussion on a topic. This is a very lively form of debate, with the increased challenge of limiting the number of characters you use, making you really think about what you write to get your point across in an easily readable format.
Blogging is another important method of getting your work published to a wide audience. A blog gives you a site where you can write a regular short article. Short topics of interest, methodologies you use, or opinion pieces are all good topics for blogs. Rather than writing these topics to the formal restraints required of a peer-reviewed journal article, blog articles can be written in a less formal tone. Their aim is to develop your skills as a writer and publish to a wide audience. One of the keys to a good blog article is making it easily accessible to and readable by the public.
Ways to Blog
“It is not just what you say, but how you say it”, a common phrase you will hear in many presentation and business skills workshops. In blogging, the design and appearance of a site is the way you say something. By making your site look beautiful and distinct, your readers are more likely to remember your site and revisit. There are many platforms on which you can create a blog. Each has its own level of ease of use, flexibility, customisability and associated costings. Blog platforms can be separated into two types: the hosted and the self hosted.
Hosted blog platforms are the easiest to set up. With hosted blogs, a public company is in charge of the maintenance of the website. If you search the web for “blog site”, you will come across scores of sites offering blogging services, and many articles trying to rank the best site for blogging. These hosted blog sites include: wordpress.com, livejournal, blogger, SquareSpace, Tumblr, Google+, Medium, Svbtle, Quora, Postach.io, ghost.io. Most of these sites are free to set-up, however, they often have paywalls limiting what you can customise. The company hosting the site also has control over your data as it is stored on their servers.
Self-hosted blog platforms, by contrast, are much more flexible in their customisation and control. The costings for the site also tend to be more upfront, with the main costing being hosting and domain name. Setting up a hosted site is more work, but definitely worth it.
At the end of the day, with a self-hosted site, you manage the server and the domain name and can do whatever you like with them. Through control of the server, you have the ability to rewrite the blog website files the way you like. This allows for the creation of some really beautiful and unique websites. Blog platforms in this category include: wordpress.org (note: not the same as wordpress.com), Jekyll, Joomla, Drupal.
For this History To The Public blog, we made the decision to use wordpress.org. This platform gives us the flexibility to design the website the way we like using freely available theme templates as a base (For those interested in our website design, we created a custom child-theme that sits on top of the hueman theme). WordPress.org also has a large repository of plugins maintained by active wordpress developers. One of the interesting plugins we use on this site is Zotpress, a plugin that enables Zotero integration, allowing for easy citations and bibliographies.
For a tutorial on how to set-up a wordpress.org website using their “famous 5-minute installation”, visit wordpress.org.
See “start a blog” for a in-depth guide to blogging success including a free eBook and Video Tutorials for all the needed steps in starting a blog or a website. To learn more about web hosting see “WebHosting Services Explained“.
Powered by Facebook Comments