Why blog your research?
Here at the PGR blog, we ask people to write for us a lot. Often, they agree, but sometimes they just look at us like we have asked them to do something absurd. Don’t we know how busy they are? Well, yes, we do, and we know it can be a big ask, but it is definitely worth it. In this blog we are going to get a little meta, as we discuss blogs within a blog. What is their value? What skills can they help you develop? And why should you make blogging a part of your PGR experience? Well, we are going to give you seven reasons to get typing!
1: It is your work.
If you are guest writing a post for someone else’s blog, you may view it as a doing them a favour. Would you think the same if you were submitting a paper to an academic journal? Of course not! Whether you are writing a blog post on a recent publication, a recent experience in the field or lab, or anything else you happen to write about, this is your work. Blogs are a platform made for social media, ideal for sharing on Twitter and Facebook—it may be that the only time someone visits a blog site is to read your post, found whilst browsing their phone. When you write a blog, the only person you are doing a favour for is yourself—you are committing to the communication of your work to as wide an audience as possible.
2: It will help you communicate better
I don’t know about you, but when I started my PhD, I got the feeling people quickly regretted asking me what I was doing. Why? Because I was bad at explaining it. As academics, the main way we communicate our work is through detailed papers, reports and talks. While the jargon filled vocabulary of these methods feels natural to us, and is perfect for talking to our peers, it can quickly earn you a blank stare from someone outwith your field. Blogs make you think carefully about your audience and focus on your key messages. Through trial and error, by experimentation and seeing what people like to read, you will develop your ability to tailor your writing to a variety of audiences.
3: It will establish a writing routine
Let's be honest, a lot of being a PGR boils down to writing. Be it your annual review, a conference presentation, a journal article, a grant proposal, or any number of other things, you are going to spend a lot of time at a keyboard. This only increases as your career advances. But starting is always the hardest part, isn’t it? Well, blogging can help with this. Blogs are short, self-contained bits of work you can turn around in a couple of days. By fitting them in around your other work, and getting into the habit of writing every day or two, starting that next “big thing” will soon feel like no big deal.
4: You will find your style.
There is not a lot of room to play with academic writing. It is serious, objective… in many ways, dull. Blogging lets you have fun! Blogs are short and not a lot rides on them, there are no blog impact factors. This means you can play with your style: you can experiment with phrasing and punctuation, you can use metaphors and analogies, and you can crack a joke or two. As you play with new ways of telling the story of your research, and learn new ways of getting your points across, you will find your voice. This, simply put, is the way in which you like to write. It will take time to develop, and you are probably going to push things a bit far at times (I got a bit dash happy when I learnt how to use them). But, through trial and error, you will find the style you feel most comfortable writing in. Added bonus: I guarantee people will start enjoying and complimenting your formal writing more.
5: It will help you get to the point.
You know those conference talks, where the researcher drones on and veers off topic? Or those 30 page research papers? Well, there is none of that when you blog. In fact, you only really have 600-800 words to get your point across; this translates to about 3-4min of read time. You can go on longer if you want, but in this day and age you are pushing people's attention spans (tl;dr). In a blog you need to be clear and get to the point fast, so no unnecessary details or long technical explanations. Your blog is a story; decide what one you want to tell and make sure you stay on topic.
6: Learn to identify your audience.
You may think you have communicated your research when you publish a journal article. If so, I encourage you to find one from a completely different field and see how easy it is to follow. The truth is, a single story can be told in numerous ways, and how you do so will depend on your audience. Blogging forces you to think carefully about whom it is you are talking to. Perhaps you are writing a blog for a learned society in your field, in which case you may be expected to use certain jargon and can assume some level of background knowledge. Perhaps you are writing for a more general, yet still professional, blog, in which case the jargon may need to be simplified. Or perhaps you are writing for wider public engagement, in which case you need to focus on the big picture, use metaphors and analogies to explain ideas, and cut all jargon and technical details (or make sure they are explained in lay terms). Chances are, when you start blogging, you will be bad at identifying what level you need to write at. But the more you do it, the better you will get at identifying your audience and the way in which you need to communicate to them.
7: It will make you a more confident writer
Have you ever hesitated before hitting send on something you have written? What if it is not good enough? What if you made a mistake? What if it doesn’t make sense? Regular blogging means that you are continually improving your writing skills, and your work is regularly being released to the public. Every time you post something new, it becomes freely available to everyone with an Internet connection. While this is daunting at first, the more you do it, and the more views you accumulate, the more relaxed you will become. As your confidence grows, the more it will show in your writing.
Blogging offers many advantages as a PGR. It allows you to share your research, and learn to effectively communicate, with new audiences. The writing skills you develop will also funnel right back into, and improve, your professional work. Want to get blogging? Drop us a message now. Already blogged about your PGR? Let us know about it below.