Today is patter’s birthday. Two years of mostly two posts a week adds up to 186 posts, 187 counting this one. Starting with 2,000 hits in its first month, patter now gets about 25,000 hits a month. And 187 posts, at an average of a bit over 800 words per post, means I’ve now written about 150,000 words – or the equivalent of a book per year. Now that’s academic productivity, isn’t it!
This post is a bit of a reflection on what I’ve learnt about blogging from doing all this writing. I think my learning is probably much the same as every other blogger‘s but for what it’s worth:
1. An academic blog is a form of academic publishing. It has a defined purpose and readership.
Patter was intended to be pedagogical in its intent and style. It’s a way to publish about some of the things that I teach – academic writing, research approaches, scholarship in its more general sense. Unlike some other academic blogs, patter was not meant to appeal to a wide audience but to those people who are interested in how scholarship ‘works’ – many of these people are either early career and doctoral researchers or university staff who work with them as supervisors, mentors and academic developers. So patter was to be an extension of my academic writing and doctoral education books – only much shorter – and widely accessible.
2. Unlike most academic publishing, blogs give their writers immediate feedback. This leads us, I suspect, to behave a little bit more like journalists.
The worpdress platform gives me daily hit rates, information about countries where readers are located, and statistics on click throughs. I can immediately see what posts have hit a nerve and what haven’t. I also get comments on and off the blog from readers, and often off line questions.
In my case, the feedback does tend to shape what I write. I do attend to the hit list graph! I often put one weekly post about something I now know will be popular together with a post about something that has more niche appeal. I know that I get more readers at the beginning of the week than at the end so I sometimes put something I think will be popular at the end of the week to even out the numbers. If I’ve had a less popular week overall, then I do try to ‘fix’ that in the next one. So I attend to ‘circulation’ figures in the same way that the big media operators do. Some of you might think this is a bit sad, but I think of it as trying to make sure that at least some of what I say does meet a need/interest.
3. There is lots of help available for academic bloggers.
Academic bloggers are a pretty generous lot I’ve discovered, not competitive, and keen to help others starting out. The kindness of strangers is shown through retweeting – using twitter to spread the word about the most recent or relevant post – and through the various listings of blogs via links and blogrolls. It’s pretty rare to find people critiquing each other’s blogs. Even when there are debates between bloggers, I don’t get the sense that this is a cut-throat academic environment. It feels like a more collegial and accepting space, where the capacity to choose to read and follow – or not read and unfollow – is the way in which evaluative judgments are made. Rather than ‘this is rubbish’, it’s more like ‘this is not for me’ and ‘this is more my stuff’.
4. Bloggers tend to be networkers too (As do Twitterers)
Not surprising now, but one of the things I didn’t expect when I started blogging, was that it would lead to meeting and working with other people in different fields, at different career stages and in different positions in universities around the world. This networking tends to happen naturally rather than in a forced way. People with similar interests just gravitate to each other. Just as blogs lead to more book sales, blogs also lead to opportunities for other academic work.
So what advice would I give other academics thinking about blogging?
Well I often get asked this, and I have two responses – other than ‘yes do it’.
I generally suggest blogging with other people. A newspaper style blog is definitely much easier to maintain than a singleton effort and is also likely to reach a wider audience. That said, there is definitely still a place for the individual columnist who maintains a particular focus and posts regularly … but you do have to be a bit OCD to keep it up, as my experience over these last two years would attest!
I also suggest that people need to think carefully about whether to use an institutional platform or an independent one. There are really good institutional blogs – my colleagues in the Politics Department at Nottingham for example do a pretty interesting blog, Ballots and Bullets, which is tied to websites and a host of other social and mainstream media activities, and LSE run a stellar group of blogs. But there are also a lot of pretty dire institutional blogs which seem very corporate and branded, much more aligned with marketing efforts than being a publications outlet for research or pedagogically focused writing. I’d want to avoid being tied to that kind of blog like the proverbial plague.
And what would I do differently? Well I’d choose a different name for the blog. Patter is really pretty silly and it was a moment of weakness on my part. I’d probably go for something much more straight forward which indicates what I actually write about. But I can’t change the name now and I’m stuck with my original mad moment. So another bit of advice might be to think carefully about the name of the blog!
And finally, just what have been my most popular posts? Well apart from people checking me out to see whether I actually do write and research (answer yes) these are the top ten posts – and you can see the common theme I’m sure: