I dislike the term blogosphere.
It sounds like some kind of all-encompassing entity. One made up of personal gripes, margarita recipes, and silly cat videos.
It would be like grouping together grocery store flyers, credit card applications, and heartfelt letters. We would see it on the news…
The anchor would say, “hey, what did the mailosphere have to say today?”
“There’s a sale on shorts” the expert would reply.
Picking a Style
Blogs are just updating websites. There is not one way to blog, there are many ways. The style you should choose starts with purpose but ends with what feels right to you.
I put together this list based on things I’ve tried and things you see at other sites. There is a lot of overlap in the styles mentioned below and this is in no way an exhaustive list but hopefully it can get you started.
You don’t have to pick a single style, you can always jump around a bit. When you’re just getting going sometimes it’s nice to play around with different styles to see what fits your personality.
1. The Academic
This style assumes that you’re already presenting, writing papers, or teaching classes.
Publicize academic work and disseminate your ideas beyond the ivory tower.
Each and every time you write a paper, plan a presentation, or teach a class, write a companion blog post. In that post list out and cover all of your major points. Use subheadings to separate the points.
Think of it like a presentation, every time you have a point it’s nice to give it some kind of multimedia accompaniment. Sometimes that’s a picture and other times it’s just a quote (you can even quote your own main points from the written post). Since we’re on the web you can also use videos, podcasts, or data visualizations.
Blogs have a lot of potential as academic modes of communication. One example that comes to mind is a post written by John Gargani on the Future of Evaluation. The posts inspired a number of other blog posts and lead to a very nice panel discussion at Eval 2012. The concept continues to spark academic discussion as I heard mention as recently as the last adventures in evaluation podcast.
2. The Presenter
You have a live presentation in the works.
Provide additional material support for your presentation and continue the conversation well after your live presentation has ended.
Like in the Academic, list out all of your major points. You’ll also want to list out any and all resources/source materials mentioned in the presentation.
Create this before the presentation and give it a very simple link (you could create it as a page rather than a post). You’ll share the link during the presentation (maybe even hand it out written a business card). Leave the comments open and say this will be a place to discuss the presentation after it has ended.
3. The Historian
Years of experience or a thirst to learn about the past.
Share the stories that built fields but predate the web.
Blog about the people, conversations, and events that shaped your field of study. What did the first conference look like? Was there a memorable academic disagreement? Who were the characters, the driving forces and connectors?
These kinds of stories are shared during conferences but many have not made their way to the web. Check out Molly Engle’s story on the formation of the American Evaluation Association.
4. The Lit Reviewer
A head for academics and access to journals.
Bring the academic conversation out of the ivory tower.
Works are copyrighted, not ideas. The style here involves translating academic arguments and ideas into web ready blog posts. Focus should be placed on opening up key arguments and ideas. Placing works in academic context is always important.
Traditional academic publications are locked away by design, this is not an indictment, it’s a fact. Presenting at conferences and writing for major academic publications is often important for reaching niche academic audiences. It does not open your works and ideas up to the masses. But blogging can.
5. The Association
In some position of authority within an association or just the initiative to get something started.
Open up the expertise of members and create discussion.
What you want to do here is to take advantage of the association’s most valuable resource, its members. This isn’t field of dreams, just because you build it doesn’t mean they will post (is it still ok to use this reference?).
Reach out to individual members, ask for posts. An association should always have more than just a single voice. We have a great example of this style in AEA365.
6. The Workshop Leader
Have something practical you can teach.
Engage your audience in learning a skill or piece of software.
With this style you want to work with your audience to help them develop some specific skill. Creating tutorials, video or step by step posts with screenshots, can help guide the reader. The idea is to be as practical as possible.
Ann Emery does a great job of this with her Excel tutorials and Data Viz Challenges. With the Data Viz challenges, she starts by engaging her readership with a challenge, then finishes with a later post featuring a step by step tutorial.
7. The Tipster
Knowledge of a potent tip that could be immensely helpful.
Help an audience learn something specific and practical.
When it comes down to it, if you can share one small thing with your audience, in every post, that makes their lives easier, they will come back.
Check out Stephanie Evergreen’s post on “How to Effectively Present Quotes.” It’s direct and very practical.
8. The Wayfarer
Embarking on some type of journey.
Document and share the journey.
We all go on journeys of all types. Sometimes it’s actually traveling to a new locale but often we go on journeys when we start new jobs, take on new responsibilities, expand our families, or set ourselves on a personal quest.
The idea of this style is to document the journey. Share the dilemmas and the lessons. What makes this style special is honesty and sincerity. A journey blog is often much more about being lost and finding your way than it is about established expertise.
Check out Jamie Clearfield’s Nepal Thoughts from the Field and Molly Hamm’s Working in Someone Else’s Country for examples. Both are on journeys at this very moment.
9. The Curator
An interest in a specific topic.
Create a collection of works on a topic.
The goal here is to bring together the works of others on a specific topic. Like any collection, what fits together will be in the eyes of the blogger. If it’s a topic area others also find of interest, an audience can grow based on the shared interest.
Successful curations can go beyond what’s new and find lost artifacts. Papers, video, lectures, books are all up for grabs. The curator can add their voice by talking about each piece and why it was added to the collection.
Compared to a resource site, the focus tends to be on the topic more than it is on audience needs. Sometimes the topic is very specifically defined but it can also be rather nebulous as is it is one of my favorite blogs, brainpickings.
10. The Resource
Expertise to find the resources.
Share resources on one or more topic areas to meet the needs of a specific community.
A lot of first generation websites were just static collections of resources. The problem with the format is that it’s hard to follow updates, when and if they happen. Social Media was born out of making website updates easier and sharable. But first generation-style collections persevere, especially in the academic realm.
Using a blog to release resources gives you the ability to place a focus on the updates and make them easy to share. You can still use pages on the site to tie together resources based on topics, but the blog can bring a resource site to life.
I created Eval Central (my evaluation blog of blogs) because a list of evaluation blog links didn’t seem all that helpful. It was hard to tell what was active and what was not. By shifting the focus to actual posts, instead of blog home pages, I was able to create a living resource.
11. The Jobseeker
Looking for a job (or just keeping your eyes open).
Create a favorable first impression in the wired world.
You know what they say, blog the job you want, not the job you have.
In the world we live in today, we make first impressions long before we see anyone in person. The real first impressions are made in Google searches.
Blog about the kinds of topics that fit in with your dream job. Chances are you’re not working it now or you wouldn’t be looking. Maybe it doesn’t even exist at this point, but it’s good to be ready.
Do you want to be an expert on developmental evaluation? How about a cartooning evaluator who specializes in social media, data visualization, analytics, and web data collection? Sorry, last one’s taken…(if you see this position anywhere, let me know)
12. The Student
A thirst for knowledge and an eagerness to learn.
The experts I most admire are the ones I’ve seen in classrooms asking really stupid questions. There is value in documenting your learning experience. If you’re only showing the side of you that is filled with expertise, you are either not being authentic or are not actively engaged in learning.
Authenticity is a good thing on the web. Sometimes that means just showing you’re human. Maybe you’ll discover how valuable your audience can be as teachers, not just students.
13. The Author
Publishing (or have published) a book.
Plug the book.
You just wrote a book. Meaning you had ideas that you put into words that were eloquent enough to publish. Take some of those ideas and create blog posts out of them.
At the end of every post, plug the book. Really the whole blog could be a plug. Your readers get the benefit of free high quality content, you get to broaden your audience.
Gail Barrington has written some nice posts based on chapters in her Consulting Management and Start-Up book.
14. The Source
In the Know.
Spread information about the goings ons in a particular field or topic.
This is where you compete with the news giants to get the information out first. That is if the news giants were interested in topics that would draw only very small audiences (they’re not).
But there is an audience and even if the NY Times isn’t interested in the story it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be told.
15. The Collaborator
There are people you want to meet or work with.
Work with someone special.
Say you create a blog and say, “anyone is free to post.” Chances are, nobody will (or very few will).
Now, say you have an idea for a post. Then you send that idea to someone who has the expertise to make that post special and ask them to write it with you. Totally different story.
While there are plenty of experts out there not blogging, there are also plenty of experts out there who would happily collaborate on a blog post if you were to ask in the right way. In other words, nicely while respecting their busy schedule.
16. The Imaginative
Have an imagination.
Do something unique and new.
Ha, can’t help you with this one. But I’d love to see what you come up with.
What do you think?
That was a lot but I could have kept going. There is so much you can do with a blog that’s not being done right now or is currently being done in very non-academic settings.
What blog styles have I left off the list? What styles have you used? If you’re planning on starting a blog, have you thought about your own style and goals?
If you’re reading this and not an email subscriber, join up. Soon I’ll have something special that I plan to release via email before I open it up on the site. Let’s just say, it’s a good thing for those of you who like my cartoons and might want to use some in presentations.