This mini-series is in response to numerous requests to say more about blogging. Your requests are my blogging agenda.
Why blog? Well, there are reasons.
Maybe you’ve heard, or been told, that blogging is a good way to reflect on your research, share your research and/or think in in public. That’s all pretty true. Maybe you have heard, or been told, that a side benefit of blogging is that it improves your academic writing. That’s often the case, but its not automatic, you have to work at any writing be it blog, thesis or journal. Maybe you’ve heard, or been told, that blogging is a good way to find some scholarly friends. That’s half right; you build networks when you do something alongside blogging – you tweet or Instagram alongside a blog.
Bu blogging is a big commitment. So maybe you have decided that you will begin by writing posts for other people’s blogs. This is a pretty shrewd strategy as it gives you the opportunity to try out this very particular kind of writing, and feel what it’s like having your writing open and available on the web. Guest posting also slipstreams on the readers that an existing blog already has – you have a ready-made audience and a potential network to ease into.
So how do you go about writing a guest post? Well here’s a few things to think about.
First of all, find your target blog. You can’t go past the general writing advice which tells you to think about audience and content together. So the most obvious thing about writing a blog post is having something to say and a clear idea of who might be interested in listening to/reading you. This means you need to find your readers. So you need to find a news-paper style blog that has the kind of readers who will be interested in what you have to say. This often isnt immediately obvious, but there may be something on the blogs you’re considering – a mission statement or strap line -which indicates who are the intended readers. the content ought to tell you if these aren’t available.
Second – work out the kind of post you are going to write. It helps to think a bit analytically about posts because they aren’t one thing, they are a family of small-ish texts.
- There’s micro –posts of about 300-400 or so words which offer one point and elaborate it a little, often with hyper-links. Micro-posts are often meant to be read very quickly, but provide food for longer thought.
- And then there’s the meso post, the version you see most often. Lots of blog posts are somewhere between 700-1300 words long. Something that you can read in a few minutes. They too usually make one point but they can say more about it. – They’ll use hyperlinks. Maybe make a few jokes. Add in a couple of references, diagrams, quotations.
- And there’s the macro – long form blog posts which can run up to 4000 or so words. Macro posts have a point to make but generally either make a more substantive argument, or they tell a longer story. Macro posts may look like an academic paper with references and diagrammes/illustrations/figures, or like a literary essay, or like a magazine article. Macro posts are shorter than your average journal article and usually more informally written. But they do take more than a few minutes to read.
Sometimes blogs use all of these forms, but it is more common for them to stick to one. so check out what is the norm in the blog you are aiming for.
Thirdly, find out if the blog is interested in your guest post. If you are thinking about writing a guest post then of course you need to contact them– blogs often have an email or a contact form you can use or a named person with an email address. But before you do this, you need to seriously think about what you are going to offer. What have you got to say that the blog will be interested in?
And the what-you-have-to-say is the key to writing a post. You’ll have noticed that when I was describing the three major post forms, I said each time that they made a point. A message that the writer wanted to convey. All posts of any length and style have a point to make.
And it’s good to communicate the point you want to make when you approach your target blog. Know the point and state the point right at the start.
So let’s get clear about communicating a point – it’s not a description. Let’s say you write to the blog editor – Would you be interested in a post about my experiences of an online viva? That’s a description of the content, not the point about online vivas that you want to make. The editor may say yes or no to this. They may suggest that you write something and they will have a look. So you write a spec post and they say no, or they say, well maybe if you do these things to it, or well how about another version where you talk about it this way.
Or you might say Would you be interested in a post about my experience of an online viva? I want to tell people that it’s not as scary as some people think and there are some simple techniques you can use to make it work for you. So now the editor has a much better idea of what you want to write. If they aren’t interested they can say so. No time wasted on writing a post simply on spec. Or the editor might say that would be of interest to us if you do… Or …we already have two posts on that topic and we would really need you to say something different and refer back to these. With any of these responses you have a much clearer steer on how to shape up the post.
So there was the other thing. Fourthly, your post has to be worth publishing. The point you make has to be interesting. It can’t be what everyone has already said. It can’t be well worn or tired. Above all, it can’t be something that is already on your target blog. Your guest post has to either offer a new angle on a well-known topic or introduce a new topic.
So you’ve got all that covered. Point – check. Angle – check. Length of post – check. Email to blog editor – check. You’re ready to write.
Wait. Before you put hand to mouse you need to understand the style of post that is usually published on your target blog. its helpful to read the last few posts – or the blog style guides if there is one – looking for the answer to this question:
Fifthly, check out what kind of posts are usually published.
- Are the posts intended to offer support? Are they in the form of advice – do they write to “you” and say you should or must do a listicle of things? Or does the writer describe what they do and suggest you might like to try it out? Or does the post feel it a bit like being in someone’s workshop or webinar because there is a combination of problem-description-strategies to try out?
- Are the posts opinion pieces? How much evidence do they provide and what kind? What kind of persona do the writers take? Detached or passionate? Emotive, funny, outraged or reasoned and dis-passionate?
- Are the posts reports of experience? Explanations of a useful resource, method or reading? Speculative development of theory? Creative play with an idea?
Then finally have a look at how the posts are written.
- How present is the writer in the text? Do they write as “I”? Do they tell you a little about themselves or their experiences? Does the story of the experience carry the point?
- Do the posts have a strong author “voice”? How is this established? How formal is the language? How much everyday language is used? Does the writing sound a lot like a conversation at a local cafe or is it closer to an academic journal? ( How much specialist terminology is used? How long are the sentences? What is the balance of active to passive voice? Use of metaphors and similes? Catchy phrases? )
- How do posts end – with a call to action? with things that the reader can or should do? with resources?
- How is supporting information presented with the post – as references, in visual form, as hyper-links?
Once you have the answer to these questions, you have a much clearer idea of how to approach a blog and then write something that is likely to be published.
You may decide to give up at this point – nah, come on you’ve got this far – or you decide that writing a guest post is for you. Yay!! Now you just need to write it, right?/write it right. Still a little bit more to think about in the writing …
And that’s the next post in this little mini-series. Writing the guest blog post.