by Nathan Palmer
Blogging can be a great way to find a broader audience for your academic research. Moving research out of the ivory tower and into the public sphere has the potential to address some of the most pressing social problems. In the words Patrick Dunleavy and Chris Gilson of the London School of Economics, “Blogging is quite simply, one of the most important things that an academic should be doing right now.”
Image by Chris Lysy FreshSpectrum
On the fourth anniversary of my blog, Sociology Source, I want to share some of what I’ve learned about making research in my field of sociology accessible to a broad, public audience. Throughout my teaching, my work on Sociology In Focus, and the one-off projects like the “Doing Nothing” video, I’ve been developing my skills at communicating highly complex ideas using language that most people without specialized training in sociology could easily understand. The guidelines that follow are designed to help your scholarly work find it’s largest audience.
1. Talk to Me: Acknowledge the Reader.
EXAMPLE: Many scholars today argue that when sharing your ideas with your audience the use of the third grammatical person places distance between the two parties whereas employing the first and second person delivers a reading experience that is superior in it’s intimacy with the reader.
- Write as if your reader is in the room with you.
- Show don’t tell. Don’t be afraid to slip into a narrative to allow your reader to experience the event first hand.
2. Just Say It: Don’t lead with a disclaimer or qualifier.
EXAMPLE: I don’t want you to read this and think I am trying to be mean. I’m also not trying to say that this applies to all forms of writing. As I said above, these are just my opinions.
- Your first sentence exists to entice the reader to read the second sentence. Your first paragraph’s job is to intrigue your reader so they are compelled to read the second. And so on and so on.
3. K.I.S.S. : Keep it Simple Scholar
EXAMPLE: Academic writers who use jargon and esoteric language are often preoccupied with communicating their cultural capital to their peers and because of this they sacrifice what could be a learning opportunity for a lay audience.
- Mercilessly destroy jargon. If you absolutely have to use a piece of jargon, don’t just define the term. Introduce the term to your reader using an anecdote or other illustrative tool.
- The greater the pre-requisite amount of education a reader must have to understand your reading, the smaller your audience will be and the smaller your impact will be.
4. Get in & Get Out.
- Keep it succinct. If possible, keep any blog post to less than 500 words.
- Oh the hypocrisy! This blog post is 790 words long!
5. No, It’s Not All Important
- Only present the reader with information that is essential for them to understand your larger points. “Kill your darlings” as the saying goes. Delete non-essential information.
- As an academic, you have an expert’s mind, so to you it’s all essential. Try to remember back to when you were a novice to your subject and how you saw your subject as a beginner. Then, write to answer the questions of the reader with a beginners mind.
6. If You Have Something to Say, Say It
- Say something compelling, intriguing, challenging, inspiring, evocative, poignant, or otherwise interesting.
- If what you write is something that you sincerely believe and something that empirical research can back up, then take the risk and hit publish.
7. Don’t Let Perfection Be The Enemy of The Good
- Focus on clearly communicating your ideas. It’s more important that you share your ideas with the world than it is to make sure your writing is 100% error free. Get in the public arena and mix it up with people.
- Your writing isn’t etched in stone. Remember that unlike print, you can immediately change errors as your readers point them out to you.
8. Scholarly Writing vs. Public Writing
Not every scholarly publication needs to be written so that a the general public can read it. There is value in scholars writing for peers in academic journals in ways that are highly technical and complex. However, as academics we need to cultivate a community of scholars that are highly skilled in communicating esoteric research into texts that can be read by a general audience.
You can download my full Guide to Writing Online here. For more tips on academic blogging (and some terrific drawings), see the Illustrated Blogging Advice for Researchers, created by Chris Lysy.
Nathan Palmer is a sociologist at Georgia Southern University and founder of the blog SociologySource.org. You can follow him on Twitter @SociologySource.