Learning to blog: my second blog about my first blog

Learning to blog has led to my first ever post. Here I look at the experience of writing a blog and the techniques behind blogging.

Learning about blogging

I wanted to explore blogging for many reasons and so it looks like the time is right to give things a go.

Attending the BIG Event gave me the opportunity to do to a session on blogging delivered by my friend Becca Smithers which answered a lot of questions. She covered areas such as target audience, topic, why blog, and planning.

Becca’s blog planning template

Getting a blog and finding my voice

I’m not familiar with blogging platforms so my friend Laura Smith listened to what I thought I needed, suggesting WordPress and the plan that would suit me best including buying my own URL. I don’t know why that was important, maybe I wanted my own tiny piece of the world wide web.

I didn’t find WordPress very intuitive initially but it’s got easier as I’ve played with it and added more draft posts. The important thing is to mess around but correct anything before you hit “Publish” and never forget Locard’s Principle, as applicable to the web as to forensic science.

I knew I wanted it to tie in with my Twitter handle and approach to present a unified theme: while some of my colleagues keep their professional and private thoughts strictly separate I wanted something that represents me as a whole, which is why you’ll see me tweeting to Arriva Trains Wales when the service goes wrong. Luckily I should know enough not to go all ranty about work but I will reflect on the tools, techniques and things I’m involved in. The university has its own platform for work purposes.

Planning and developing a blog

I have a small paper notebook for ideas, developing them further using Becca’s template. Interestingly for this blog I’ve planned the headings within the WordPress editor itself, bypassing a paper version altogether. I think it’ll depend whether I have a device in front of me.

What I’ve learned

The amount you leave out

Becca’s guideline is 300+ words, ideally 800-900 words (ironically this is over that) with longer blogs being split into two posts. You can watch the handy word counters tick upwards as you type and it’s amazed me how much I’ve left out: running a session with Andy, Mhairi and Neil; musings on the Best Demo Competition; the winner of the Josh Award being a former student of mine Jon Chase; touring the Centre for Life, learning about their ethos and business model; attending my first poorly delivered session (not bad for attending four years of BIG Events); the excellent cup of tea they make in the Centre for Life; meeting a mini T. Rex… Somehow it didn’t feel right to do two posts.

DSC_0893
Meeting a mini T.rex. It was soft in case you were wondering. My photo.

Key words, categories and tags

It’s important to identify key words and use them regularly so they show up on search engines, not sure I’ve cracked that yet. WordPress gives you the option to categorise and tag your blogs; working out some good categories and particularly tags will get better with experience.

Pictures and images

I haven’t yet worked out an optimum text-to-photo ratio yet but again that will come with practice. Photos might be an issue on two fronts: firstly my phone camera isn’t great and that’s the camera you always have on you. This is going to be a particular issue if/when I blog about beekeeping as the bees are far more important than taking a half decent photo. Secondly when sourcing images elsewhere I need to understand the licencing and correct attribution/copyright statement; hopefully this won’t be too much of a problem at the moment as the quality of my photos is so bad no one else will want to steal them. I’ll learn more about that when I use pictures that aren’t mine, it’ll give it some context.

Readability

Making things easy to read is important so others understand what you’re trying to say, it’s not always straightforward. Giving the text to a non-specialist to read and comment on is useful as are the Hemingway App and Flesch Reading Score. I find Hemingway App useful and scary in equal parts: useful to identify where you can use fewer words, scary in the number of sentences it finds hard to read.

It takes practice to stop yourself using many words when a few will do. However, it’s also easy to read and re-read, changing a word here, altering punctuation there, tweaking so many things that you eventually have to decide to stop.

Using URLs: to explain or not to explain

There’s a real art to choosing which terms you’ll explain and which you’ll just add a link to the website. On balance linking makes things easier as you can save a lot of words and explaining. I feel a bit uncomfortable linking to Wikipedia but sometimes it’s the clearest explanation available.

Word smithing takes time

Crafting good words takes time, this can come as a surprise to some people and will need to be considered for researchers’ workload models. It took about a day to craft my first post although thankfully not as long for this one and hopefully I’ll get quicker again.

Getting some space

Saving your draft post and coming back to it later is very handy. After I walked away from this one for a bit I spotted a whole paragraph that would be better on my About page, reducing this blog by quite a few words. Ironically I’ve just increased them again by explaining it.

Worth it? Will I carry on?

I think so. I’ve learned a lot I can pass on when I train others. I’m enjoying the process and the creativity gives me the same high as running events. I have my own little space on the web for it now but you’ll have to pop back to find out for certain. Is that a decent Call To Action?

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