It’s five years this week since I started blogging, so in some ways Thing 3 and Thing 4 on blogging should be easy to do. But then I looked at one of the suggested bits of reading for Thing 3, a post by Steve Wheeler on ‘What makes a good blog post’ and realised that I mostly write what the author would consider bad blog posts.
How am I ignoring the seven things that “are important to include if you want to write a blogpost that attracts a readership”? Firstly, I should have a good snappy title. Sometimes, I admit that I manage that: “Archbishop of Canterbury killed by Muslims” was a good one (if technically misleading) and “A history of baby-eating mothers” and “The early medieval jam tart” have a certain ring. But “Gnosis then and now” or “Two models of Carolingian marriage” are not going to draw in the average reader.
As for no. 2 (good content), I aim for “well-written” and “informative”, but I’m not sure my posts are always “easy to read” and I certainly don’t manage “topical”, let alone “tapping into the zeitgeist” of any time later than the year 1000. Most of my posts tend to emerge from a slow process of intellectual rumination and meditation on a particular theme: it’s taken me than five months to blog Chris Wickham’s book Framing the Early Middle Ages and I haven’t finished yet.
“Thirdly, controversial comment always draws a crowd”. The problem is that the (small) crowd of readers I draw have unusual definitions of controversial. Despite writing moderately frequently about sex and religion, what commentators on this blog mainly get worked up about is Arnaldo Momigliano or historical novels.
My blog is also short of colourful images, which I should apparently be including (number 4). One reason is that I worry about copyright on images (which is where learning a bit more about Flickr might help). And I can’t easily find images for some of my posts without moral hazard. But more to the point: I’m a historian and a librarian. What I like doing is playing with words; if I wanted to spend time working with images I’d have become an art historian or a picture researcher. An article on Chris Wickham’s attitudes to aristocrats is not going to becoming suddenly more interesting just because I include a picture of him:
Chris Wickham in 1979
It varies quite a lot how many hyperlinks I include (point five of a good post). I try and remember to include links to books and articles I discuss, but I do tend to presume that if I refer to Charles the Bald or Peter Brown my readers will either know who they are or be willing to look them up on Google or Wikipedia. I may be OK on number six (“Humour is always a useful addition to a blog post” since, like many British medievalists, my normal writing tone is ironic, but I don’t pay much attention to the seventh supposed feature of a good blogpost (“Be brief”).
Steve Wheeler’s view assumes that blogging is journalism or marketing with added hyperlinks and interactivity. That’s fine for some bloggers, but I’ve written before about some of my own very different reasons for blogging. When I’m trying to work out my own thoughts on a historical topic via blogging, it’s hard to create short posts with a snappy title and a controversial angle. Is it really useful to start having posts on “Carolingian patriarchy: not so bad after all”?
I’m not alone: both historians and librarians use blogging for many different things, as a few examples will show:
As a support network.
(There is a whole list of blogging UK librarians here to give you some further ideas).
One of the things that librarians should be thinking about is how many readers, and what sort do they want to have for their blogs? For reflection and support you really only need a few, if you can get them reading and commenting regularly. The best blogs build a relationship with their readers, draw them back to the site, give them something different from what they can read elsewhere. Trying to mimic journalism isn’t necessarily the best approach to build such an audience. An alternative way is to start from what you personally would like to read and write that. The wonder of Google means that the people who want to read detailed discussions of the reign of Edward II or techniques for visualising how students comment on each others’ work can find you. If you start from something you find interesting, you’re more likely to be successful than if you just write what you feel you’re supposed to. Where that leaves the 23 Things bloggers, I’m not sure.
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