Research Blog Writing Strategies!

As we continue to develop the research blog format here at GDC, I think  we need to stop for a minute and consider how these blogs can be useful for students throughout the research and writing process. Despite Anna’s and Cheryl’s enthusiasm for MAENGL, the most common complaint that I have heard about research blogs in the English Department is that, though the blogs are great in theory, when it gets down to using one no one really knows how to approach it. I think it would be helpful (especially for beginning bloggers) if we compiled a list of writing strategies that describe different ways that research blogs can be used. By observing MAENGL and other online articles about blogging, I’ve found a few writing strategies that I hope will get the conversation started:

Writing strategies based on observations of MAENGL blogs:

Idea: Use the blog throughout the entire writing process.

  • You can use the blog as a place to brainstorm ideas and topics for your project. Keeping your ideas intact in one blog post, rather than scrawled on a random piece of paper, will help to organize your thinking and it will also preserve ideas that  you may not need in the present but which you might use in the future.
  • Research blogs can be used to form an electronic annotated bibliography at the beginning of a research project. Posting a short excerpt on a source that summarizes its content while adding a brief note on how/why it would/woudn’t be relevant for the final project will allow you to keep track of which sources you’ve looked at and what the general subject matter of each source is. Using the research blog this way will save a lot of time, especially once you start getting deeper into the research process, as you can avoid  flipping through material you’ve already read and skip straight to the most useful resources.
  • You can also use your blog as a place to record potential sources before you have had the chance to explore them. For example, if you find a seemingly useful source in a footnote while you are reading, you can jot the new source down in your blog so that you are sure to go back and look for it later.
  • Once you start getting to the meat of your research, you can use your blog as a place to store relevant passages and quotations. After quoting material, I have found it to be helpful to write a note or paragraph to yourself about what that particular passage contributes to your project.
  • You can organize the different parts of your research into a categories widget, as Anna does in her blog. This seems like an effective way to keep track of your research, since the hardest part, I think, about writing a major paper or thesis is to organize all of your research into some kind of cohesive whole at the end as you try to apply it to your own ideas. Research blogs can be excellent tools for organizing and managing your research to make the actual writing process more manageable.

Writing strategies based on online articles:

(Note: The problem with these articles is that they look at academics who blog for an audience. Regular blogging is much different than research blogging, which I like to think of as a sub-genre of regular blogs.  Although research blogs draw an audience (namely those in your department who are also working on research), the research blog has more selfish motives than a normal blog. A normal blog is for you and your audience; a research blog is for you and your project. That being said, I’ve tried to adapt writing strategies for normal blogs into suggestions for research blogs as well.)

  • Use descriptive headlines: Although the article argues that descriptive headlines are crucial in attracting readers, the headlines or titles of your research blog posts sort of do the same thing. A catchy, pithy title will attract other researchers to your writing, while it will also help you to quickly find the blog post that you need as you are researching and writing. Blase, boring titles won’t help you to find the research that you are looking for quickly.
  • Write in inverted pyramid style: The article argues that getting straight to the point in a blog post will let readers know immediately if they wish to continue reading or not. Writing in this manner will help you as well, since you won’t have to skim through your entire blog post to figure out if it is the one that you need.
  • Use lists, images, tables, sub-headlines, examples, indented notes, indented quotes, icons, colors, bold and italics to lighten up your article and make it easier to scan it: Not only can this strategy make your blog more palatable for readers, but it will make it easier for you to read and to refer to as well.
  • Credit your sources: Always. It’s just a good habit to get into, even in an informal setting like a blog.

Corey Tomsons argues that a good blog post should be brief, vivid, and connected in order to connect with your audience. I think these tips can be relevant to research bloggers as well:

  • Be Brief: Keeping blog posts at a manageable length will help to focus your research and ideas so that you won’t have to wade through all kinds of fluff later. Writing succinct entries can help you to zone in on the heart of your ideas right away rather than writing a super long post and then dissecting that post later to make sense of your ideas.
  • Avoid jargon: No one wants to read an intensely dry, academic blog post, and neither will you when you are wading through your research blog as you write your project. Try to keep your posts conversational and vivid in tone to avoid boring or turning away readers (or yourself!)
  • Link to sources: Linking to sources is helpful for you and your readers. Readers will be able to find potentially useful sources for themselves, and you will gain credibility as the author of the blog.

So, though this post is certainly not brief, I hope that it helps start the conversation on how we can actually use our research blogs. Suggestions?