Often people discuss blogs in terms of their public expression … sharing information and experiences, creating a community, disseminating your ideas to a potentially large audience, etc. Obviously the flow from the blogger “outwards” is a very important aspect, but here I’d like to mention five reasons why you should consider blogging for what it can do for you rather than for your readers. The reasons below are applicable to any blogger, but perhaps even more so to academics, where blogs, if properly used, can become a wonderful compliment to more traditional methods of disseminating ideas.
1. Improving Your Writing and Ideas
This first one probably does not even need mentioning to a William & Mary audience, as it is one of the basic pillars of a liberal arts education: Writing as a practice is key to developing clear and ordered ideas. It is amazing how many flaws and inconsistencies in a set of ideas can be revealed and then corrected and refined by the mere act of writing them down. For most of us those potentially brilliant ideas floating around in our heads will at best remain just that, or worse, be completely forgotten unless written down.
2. Academic Networking
Truth be told I was not initially a huge advocate of blogs, but over the years I have been won over in large part by the amazing possibilities in academic networking that I have seen blogs provide. In large part this is a result of the high visibility afforded to academic blogs, at least those at W&M, by the indexing of Google and other search engines. But perhaps more importantly, anecdotal evidence suggests that blogs seem to attract a more diverse, both geographically as well as academically, set of readers than the often much more narrowly-focused traditional publications. Finally, the informal nature of a blog seems to promote your readers to make contact with you, either on the blog or other means. Obviously you don’t need to respond to all folks contacting you … but you might be pleasantly surprised by many of the connections made.
3. Cataloging Your Ideas
As I mentioned above it is all too easy, even for some of our best new ideas, to get lost in the shuffle as we deal with ongoing work, teaching, publications, etc. A blog can provide a great middle ground between barely trying to hold onto an idea in some sort of skeletal fashion (in, say, a list of some sort), and having to spend time we might not have to fully flesh it out as a formal publication. A blog post can easily be used to keep these “seed” ideas alive and viable as well as available for future incorporation for a more in-depth treatment of the subject. If you are worried about an idea being “lifted” by making it public, you could even write a post to keep for yourself without ever publishing it.
4. Bouncing Your Ideas off a Large Audience
Obviously you can use a blog to keep a personal journal of sorts for reasons such as the ones mentioned above, but then you will miss out on another benefit of sharing your ideas in a blog — feedback. In the traditional publication scheme it was often not until a paper had been submitted that you received critical feedback on your ideas. Presentations in professional conferences and meetings could be used to get feedback to allow you to sharpen your arguments before submitting for publication, but this approach could be severely constrained by both temporal and financial limitations. A blog provides a great venue to present your work for critical review and improvement that is not subject to these limitations.
5. Staking Your Ground
In some fields with quickly developing events and topics it might be especially important to get your ideas out as quickly as possible, and a blog is a great tool for this. An active blog can certainly make your expertise within a field be known, and here at W&M I have seen this lead to all sorts of interesting results such as being invited (all expenses paid) to conferences, TV interviews, etc.
If you take advantage of some of the tips above, blogs can provide an amazing amount of bang for the effort, but there are two important caveats that I like to mention to all new bloggers:
- A blog is a tool that allows you to broadly disseminate your ideas in an attractive and functional website, and only requires a very small amount of work on your part to deal with “the nuts and bolts” of how to “publish” your material on the Internet. It is a wonderful tool, but it is still only a tool. Fifty years ago having a faster typewriter was a great thing, but it did not make you a better newspaper columnist. Content is still king in the world of blogs, so it’s up to you to provide it — technology plays little or no part in this.
- If you’re blogging mainly for yourself, then sporadic posts with long hiatuses are not an issue. However, if you are interested in developing a “readership” for some of the reasons above, then consistency is important. Don’t kill yourself polishing your work to perfection if it means you can’t be productive enough (maybe a weekly post or so) — that is not what blogs are about. Instead, the key is to find the right balance of production and quality. Many bloggers may find it hard to maintain this minimum level of productivity in a personal blog, and might be better with a lower workload in a group blog — either pre-existing or created with some other like-minded individual of your choosing.