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Blogging is the only addiction that won’t make you fat, drunk or stoned. But it might make you so hungry for instant gratification that your books get shorter.

—Erica Jong, novelist, HuffPost blogger

Introduction (skip this if you want)

What is a blog?

The truncated version of Web log, the term blog refers to any website with frequently updated information ranging from personal opinions to business or academic topics. Blogs often read more like journals than academic papers and are typically less formal, shorter, and more for conversation than in-depth treatment of a subject. Blogs often contain links to other websites covering the same or similar subjects; they usually focus on a narrow subject, but there is no reason to be limited provided the author has new information to share on a wider range of subjects.

Blogs typically contain

  • A main content area
  • A listing of articles with most recent on top (often categorized)
  • An archive of older articles
  • A comment section for readers (moderated or not, depending on your preference)
  • Links to related sites
  • Feeds (RSS, etc.)
  • Pingbacks(1) or trackbacks(2)– inform others whenever you cite their article—maintain online conversations

What’s in it for me?

A blog can be a wonderful method for faculty to

  • Communicate, collaborate, and network with peers
  • Be recognized as a thought leader (increase your reputation)
  • Educate others (and focus your thoughts as you reflect for your regular updates)
  • Publish immediately (no need to wait for your website to be updated or your webmaster to post your thoughts)
  • Have an excuse to read others’ works in order to gather information for your posts
  • Propose questions or theories for discussion and comment by others
  • Relate to your students, who are often asked to blog for their courses

Why will you blog? As shown above, there are a number of reasons for blogging, none of which is better or worse than the others. But the key here is to know why you are blogging so that you can set your goals and plan for the future of your blog.

What topic(s) will you cover? Regular topics will help you establish your voice and your credibility, but keep in mind that regular posting will be what keeps your readers coming back. Make sure your topic is not too narrow for your blog. Determining whether you will have a set topic for each blog for the coming year/semester may be helpful for some; for others, spontaneity is key to their blog’s freshness as they like to respond to current events or thoughts. Know what works best for you and plan around that.

  • What makes you a good choice for blogging about this topic (or set of topics)? Are you the “go-to” expert? Are you just building your reputation and hope to offer some fresh insights? Are you willing to share some of your personality with your readers? Successful bloggers tend to develop their own voice as they grow with their blog, so don’t worry if you’re not yet recognized as being an expert. Offering fresh insights will help your readers grow and challenge the status quo.
  • How often will you post? Posting daily or even weekly is not a requirement. However, not posting for a few months after you began posting weekly will signal your readers that you’ve either run out of material or you’ve quit your day job and given up the blog. While quitting your blog will not end up on your permanent record (according to The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging, it’s estimated that less than 7 percent of blogs have been updated in the past 90 days, readers will turn off their subscription if you leave them hanging for too long!

Where do I start?

1.     Plan

First, why do you want a blog? Do you want to communicate with others about your work/life/hobbies? Or are you joining the blogging community because your boss says you have to.

If you’re in the first category, great! You’ll have a real reason to want to blog. If you’re in the latter, well, it’ll be harder at first. But go at it with the attitude of sharing your knowledge while learning from your commenters, and you might just find you’ll enjoy it. Either way, you’ll need to plan ahead.

  • What platform will you use? (Note: If you are a faculty member at the University of Notre Dame, you can use WordPress at  blogs.nd.edu.
  • How many blogs a week/month/year do you want to produce? Having a schedule in your calendar is a great way to “remember” to blog.
  • What’s your topic? Do you need to research it? If so, plan time for research.
  • Are there other blogs similar to yours? Can you find a niche that fits you?

2.    Commit

Review your schedule. Review your plan. Are you sure you can commit to this? Dropping off the Internet into oblivion will definitely not help you in the long run. Make sure you can commit to a fairly regular schedule of blogging before starting.

OK, I’m ready to commit. What’s next?

3.    Set up your blog

  • Once your blog has been approved,  it’s a matter of choosing a theme, widgets, and plugins, and writing your first blog! (Okay, it’s not something you can do between appointments, but the Resources page can help a lot.)

4.    Write your first article

Good for you! You’ve planned, committed to blogging, set up your blog, and . . . now’s when the fun begins—your first blog. (Some may tell you this will be your easiest blog to write. They may be right. However, you can also think of it as setting the stage for further great blogs, some of which will be hard to pull from your thoughts and others that will flow by themselves. This is the foundation for your journey. So, how do you start?

Your first blog sets the stage for you. In it, you will most likely want to:

  • Introduce yourself. Who are you? What drives you to do what you do? Are there others who share in your work/your dreams/your goals? This is where you can create a sense of trust in your readers and make them want to come back to read your writings.
  • Tell your readers why you are blogging. Or, from your readers’ point of view—why should they read your blog? What do you plan to share with them that’s different from everyone else or that has a special spin on it that only you can provide? 
  • Let your readers know you value their feedback. Yes, it can be risky allowing comments, but one very strong aspect of blogging is the ability it gives you and your readers to interact.
  • Keep it simple. Not all your readers will have a Ph.D. or know your jargon. Try to keep the language clear and simple when possible. You’ll develop a larger readership and educate those readers with differing backgrounds.
  • Be original.
  • Ask a question. By asking a rhetorical question, you cause your readers to engage with you—to think. This can lead to a commitment on their part to come back to find out what else you are thinking and how they can challenge themselves by reading your blog.
  • Share a (short) story. Establish the main point by telling a story or quoting someone in order to get the attention of your readers. Stories often help by helping your readers create visions in their minds of the point you’re making—and pictures, even mental ones, make for longer-term memories of what is read.
  • Give your readers something to do. Ask for comments. Challenge them to come up with a different (better?) idea. Simply putting words out there for people to consume isn’t enough. You want to create a community of interaction, thought sharing, education, or action. And blogging is a wonderful way to do it.
  • Close by returning. A good way to close your blog is to return to the point you were making or the statement or question you set forth in your first paragraph. Let the readers know you’re finished for now.

Now What?

Congratulations! Your first blog has been posted! You may even have two or three more ideas stashed away for future blogs. But now what? You know finals are coming up and you’ve got a heavy load what with grade reporting, exam prep, etc., and you’ve got that conference in Stockholm the week after next. How are you going to keep those blogs coming?

Now that you have your first blog under your belt, take time to tentatively plan out the next one. In fact, if you’re feeling the urge to write more, you can store those future blogs away for those days when the well of creativity runs dry or the deluge of academic pressures inundate you.

Here are some ideas on how to get the juices flowing in preparation of those busy days ahead:

  • Schedule half an hour (okay, 15 minutes if that’s all you really have) two or three days from now. Go ahead. Put it on your calendar and reserve that time for blogging. In fact, you may want to put that as a repeating appointment to meet with your inner thoughts and express them on paper.
  • Write down a list of titles or topics. This list, whether you follow it or not, will give you a starting point for those days when you can’t think of a thing to blog.
  • Write down bullet points for those topics that are of interest to you. If bullet points don’t work for you, make an outline or a thought cloud for organizing your points.
  • If typing isn’t your thing, try speech recognition software or dictate your blog.
  • If you have photos you think would help express your points, gather them in a special blog folder on your computer or server so you’ll have them handy for your late-night inspirations.
  • Consider video as a form of blogging!

Keep on Keepin’ on

It’s true. No one will read you at first, let alone comment. So don’t let that get you down. And don’t quit!

Eventually, by using best practices with keywords and links, you’ll get a reader or two. And if they like what they read, they’ll tell their readers, who will tell others. And soon, you’ll be read by and educating more people than you’d have ever thought would be interested in your line of work. It takes time; and it takes commitment.

Keeping it Real

Take It Easy on Your Readers

No, we’re not suggesting you avoid controversial or hard-to-grasp topics. Indeed, that would be exactly what would help readers realize you know your topic and invite interaction. We’re talking readability here. Just like on regular websites, readers tend to scan to see if what they want is on your page.

  • Make your text scannable. Short paragraphs. Bullet points. Headings.
  • Check your spelling. Especially as a faculty member.
  • Read your post aloud. Does your post read smoothly? Does it make sense? Can it be improved by deleting or adding text? Would it read more easily if it were broken up into smaller sections?
  • If you are aware of other sites with similar content, or are referring to another site, include the hyperlink for that site. That author will appreciate your courtesy, and your link will add authority to your statements.
  • If using terms that might not be familiar to a layperson, link to a definition of the term.
  • If you have a large number of hyperlinks within your blog, you might consider listing all the hyperlinks at the bottom of your blog so as to not interrupt your readers’ concentration when reading the text.

Link to Other Sites

While you don’t want to look like a link farm (which is what this post might look like to some), if your content naturally lends itself to links to other blogs or websites, don’t be afraid to use them. This will help your interaction with others and provide good information for your readers.

Use Appropriate Keywords

These are words that Google and other search engines use for identifying content. By using words that relate to your topic and by defining acronyms, you’ll help your search engine ratings and help others find your blog. In the same way, make sure your blog titles draw in readers. By asking a question or posing an answer (“10 Ways to Avoid Burnout in Teaching Physics,” “What Makes a Architectural Model Effective?”), you can attract readers and help your search engine findability.

Identify Your Posts with Good Tags

When you post your blog, you’ll be asked to provide tags to help the search engines find your post. It’s suggested you use any and all that relate to the post, but no more than 10 per post. To develop your tags, try to think of your readers looking for your post. What would they use as search terms?

Interact with Readers

Invite comments and, when people comment on your site, be sure to respond to them, at least the first time they comment. By doing so, you’re building relationships with your readers, thus encouraging loyalty and continuing the conversation.

Consider having your photo on your site. By letting the world identify you, you are inviting trust and a relationship that will be key to readers returning to your site.

Give Them Something New

Give added value to your readers that they can’t find anywhere else. Do you have a colleague who is worth interviewing?

Leave Out These Things

  • Anything animated
  • Music
  • Misspelled words and grammatical errors
  • Old content, especially from other sites. If you have nothing original to say, link back to the source.

Other Resources

Why Blog:

microbiologybytes.com/AJC/whyblog.html

nogoodreason.typepad.co.uk/no_good_reason/2007/04/encouraging_edu.html

buildabetterblog.com/2009/07/why-blog-when-youve-got-facebook.html

Blog Planning:

problogger.net/archives/2008/02/26/building-a-blog-plan-for-success/

codex.wordpress.org/Introduction_to_Blogging

First Blogs:

searchengineguide.com/mack-collier/how-to-write-your-first-blog-post.php

copyblogger.com/5-simple-ways-to-open-your-blog-post-with-a-bang/

Best practices:

slideshare.net/rlewis1686/5-blog-best-practices

armchairtheorist.com/2008/05/22/top-10-tagging-best-practices-for-anything-web-20/

https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal

General:

The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging, by the editors of the Huffington Post

dailyblogtips.com/101-ways-to-promote-a-new-blog/

(1) Pingbacks are a form of remote commenting. You post something on your blog; the next person links to your post; you get a pingback that sends you to that person’s blog so you can verify the pingback..

(2) Trackbacks are similar to pingbacks. You post something on your blog; the next person comments on it in her blog and sends a trackback to you. Your blog then displays the trackback as a comment to your blog, with a link to the second person’s blog. Trackbacks aren’t verifiable (can be faked) but your readers can see some of what the second person has to say before clicking over to that person’s blog. The preference of pingbacks vs. trackbacks is personal and arguable.

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2 Responses to “From Zero to Blogging in Five Easy Steps”

  1. Gabe says:

    FYI, several of the links under First Blogs, Best Practices and General are incorrectly linked.

  2. krussell says:

    Thanks for pointing those out! I broke my own rule about double-checking and proofing by simply pasting from a document I had written. Shame on me!

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