Category Archives: Knowledge Streams

From Scholarly Research to Crafting an Op-Ed: A How To for Academics

When your area of scholarly expertise becomes part of a news cycle, you have a chance to jump in and add your perspective to the conversation. You may be burning to refute an argument or clarify a popular opinion or, more ambitiously, change the direction of a longer conversation. However, it can be hard to know how to do just that. Here are a few simple tips to help you get started.

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An excellent way to bring your work and perspective to a broader audience and inform public opinion is to write Op-Eds for mainstream publications. In this post, I’ll give some basic guidelines for writing Op-Eds that effectively present your academic work and link it to the topic of the moment (or longer!).

The challenge for many academics is striking a balance between the complexities of a subject and making it accessible to an intelligent public. Academics are fluent in the language of expertise. We often define this in terms of our discipline, sub-discipline, and methodological practices. But even smart, informed readers cannot be expected to know disciplinary ins-and-outs, (and they may not care).

For example, labor experts who focus on intersectionality may have significance among our tribe, but that can mean very little to readers of the Washington Post. However, if that labor expert can link her specific niche to broader issues of public concern, it will have far more meaning to the average reader. For example, her scholarship can inform issues about gender wage gaps, criminal background checks on hiring practices, and the decline of the black middle class. Those are all issues generally understood and hotly debated in the media.

images                                                      image source

Whichever media outlet you pitch a piece to or its subject matter, an Op-Ed should: 1) establish your credibility 2) argue for a compelling point-of-view and 3) consider counter-perspectives.

It should also follow a general structure. The one presented here is recommended by The Op-Ed Project, a great organization that seeks to increase the range of voices and quality of ideas we hear in the world, especially from women. An Op-Ed should have:

  1. Lede: Establishes why and for what this Op-Ed matters, and it needs to be pegged to a news hook;
  2. Thesis: Statement of your argument, either explicit or implied;
  3. Argument: Based on evidence, such as stats, news, reports from credible organizations, expert quotes, scholarship, history, first-hand experience;
  4. “To Be Sure” Paragraph: In which you pre-empt potential critics by acknowledging any obvious counter-arguments;
  5. Conclusion: Have a clear ending, and if you can, circle back to your lede.

Your lede should be brief, to-the-point, and make the connection to the news hook clear. If you are a labor sociologist, it is clear how your argument relates to that a news story on disparities in earnings. At other times, the connection can be less clear, but no less compelling. For example, a labor sociologist could just as easily use a popular movie like The Wolf of Wall Street to discuss gender, sexism and financialization during the 1980s.

In either case, your lede should establish who you are, why you are talking about this topic, and how it relates to a news item of interest. To present who you are and why you are talking to this subject, you should establish your credibility very early on. One way to do this is to lead with your baubles. Consider every title, position, and publication you hold and highlight the ones that best represent you and the relevance for the topic. Each of these signal to editors and a general audience that you are expert. This is analogous to using citations efficiently in an academic article.The primary difference is that general audiences generally do not want a literature review or bibliography. Instead, they need to trust that you know the literature. To establish that; speak to who you are rather than what you know.

The thesis, argument, counter-argument, and conclusion are more self-evident. Just remember to stick to one point, make the connections between each piece of evidence clear for your audience, and do not rely on jargon. A well-crafted Op-Ed, written by an expert who can translate relevant research for a broad public audience is both attractive to a media outlet and a valuable contribution to public intellectual life.

tressie-mcmillan-cottom-bio-headshot~ This blog post was written by Tressie McMillan Cottom (@tressiemcphd),a PhD Candidate in Sociology at Emory University and a PhD Intern at the Microsoft Social Media Collective in Cambridge, MA. She has written Op-Eds for the New York Times (here and here) and is a regular columnist for Slate Magazine. More of her writing can be found on her website here.   

 

Launching Media Skills for Academics Topic Series

digital zeros and ones

Summer is typically the time when academics use to delve into research, writing, and brushing up on skills.

We’re here to help with a new series on digital media skills for academics. Beginning this week and continuing through July, we’ll feature posts on how to use Twitter, Blogging, Op-Eds, Podcasts, Digital Research and Analytics.

In the digital era, media skills are increasingly important for scholars to build an audience for their research. Here at JustPublics@365, we think hybrid training – in traditional academic research and digital media skills – is crucial for fostering collaborations between scholars, activists, and journalists in ways that further social justice.

Previously, we’ve hosted discussions here about the ways in which scholarly communication is changing. Building on these conversations, our latest series deepens and expands the work of our successful MediaCamp workshops. We’ll be offering some of these workshops at the August meeting of the American Sociological Association in San Francisco.

social networks

This is also a good time to remind you about some of our other resources and skills guides we have put together, such as:

We encourage you to use and share all of these resources and check back with us for more!

Jeff Mays on East Harlem Recovering from the Explosion

largerJeff Mays is a reporter/producer for DNAInfo covering Harlem. He has written about East Harlem after the March 12th gas explosion and sat down with me to talk about how the community is recovering six weeks after the tragic incident.

Collette Sosnowy: You’ve been covering East Harlem since the tragic explosion that killed eight people and injured many more. What has the impact of this disaster been on the neighborhood as a whole?

Jeff Mays: I think the neighborhood as a whole is still reeling from the loss of those eight lives. A lot of those people were known in the neighborhood, people recognized them, so I think the loss of life is probably one of the biggest issues they’re still dealing with. There’s still a boy in the hospital, Oscar Hernandez who’s recovering from his injuries. The prognosis is good and doctors are hopeful but he still has a long road ahead of him.

Also, one of the biggest impacts you can see in the neighborhood are that businesses are still struggling. There are some that have been able to re-open but not return back to normal. Other businesses have not opened and are waiting for insurance payments and payouts from Con Ed. Just walking around the neighborhood, it seems like everything is normal but when you take a look around it may not be. There are buildings still boarded up, you still see people stop to gawk at the site, you still see city officials around the site. The neighborhood has been greatly affected.

Collette Sosnowy: Obviously, the families that lived in those buildings or nearby are the ones most directly affected. Do you know are they doing at this point?

Jeff Mays: I’ve been told that several of the families have been put up by the city in temporary apartments that I believe are three to six month placements, somewhere around there.  Another five or six of them have found their own accommodations. What’s most interesting is that I’ve been told that all of those people from the building want to return to East Harlem and city officials have promised them that they will try to make that happen, which is a big deal. I heard a story about one survivor who’s doing well now who has found another place who is getting donations of clothing and furniture and just trying to put her life back together, but those families obviously have a long way to go.

Collette Sosnowy: What’s your sense about how the community is faring overall?

Jeff Mays: I think that East Harlem is such a resilient community, it’s a diverse community with some very strong people. You have a lot of immigrants who have come to this country looking for a better life who are incredibly hard workers. What I’ve seen is that people in the community came together, not just in East Harlem but lots of people in Harlem. Once they heard about the accident, they got together and tried to organize different efforts, tried to collect clothing, collect food, collect money.

There are people who are specifically patronizing the businesses in the area. People are still devastated over the fact that eight people died and over the possibility that many more could have died, but overall people are really trying to get back to normal.


Collette Sosnowy: What are the most pressing issues that remain?

Jeff Mays: Right now housing is the biggest issue. As I said, we still have those people who lost everything when the two buildings collapsed. I believe all of the vacate orders in the surrounding buildings have been lifted, but I spoke to one woman who lives in a nearby apartment. She doesn’t have windows yet. She still has piles of debris in her apartment, and it’s been difficult for the landlord to fix that up. She’s still struggling with that because her shelter housing ran out so she’s forced to be back in the apartment while they do these repairs, and she suffers from asthma.

It’s still tough for a lot of the businesses in the area. I talked to a meat market on 116th street. They’ve been able to re-open but part of the problem is that the phone lines in that neighborhood are down, so they can’t accept credit card payments, EBT payments, which make up a huge chunk of their business. They’re open, but they’re barely open, and they’re struggling.

I’ve also heard about some immigrants who lost everything when the building collapsed and who are now having trouble getting documentation, which is difficult when they have nothing to prove who they are. Going to the DMV when you have nothing is incredibly difficult. I know some elected officials have stepped in and are trying to help those people.

Finally, I’ve heard some frustrations from people about getting money to replace furniture and clothing and other things that were lost in the explosion. There’s been a lot of money raised from the Mayor’s fund, over $330,000, but I’ve heard some complaints from people in the neighborhood that that money has been slow to trickle down to them to help with very real, pressing needs.

Collette Sosnowy: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Jeff Mays: It’s been amazing to see how people in this community have responded to this crisis. People have come together and helped one another and are looking forward to moving past this.

I talked to the Urban Garden Center, which is a business right next to where the buildings collapsed and they were finally able to re-open. They were basically destroyed. They were one of four businesses that were heavily damaged or completely destroyed, so they are re-building and they’re very optimistic about their future and that they’re going to come out of this situation stronger than before.

Social Media Toolkit

We initially released our JustPublics@365 Social Media Toolkit in December and now we’re pleased to announce you can now read or download it on ISSUU.

ISSUU 2Many academics want to engage in research and produce knowledge that informs progressive social change. Digital media technologies are making it easier for academics to connect their research with people, community groups, and movements who are also trying to bring about social change. Yet, most academics are perplexed about how to share their research with publics beyond the academy.

JustPublics@365 is here to help meet this unmet need, connecting academics and social change agents through digital media for the public good. Our toolkit, available in multiple e-book formats, is an easy way to get started.

Get it three ways:

Engaging Academics and Reimagining Scholarly Communication for the Public Good: A Report

We are pleased to announce the release of “Engaging Academics and Reimagining Scholarly Communication for the Public Good: A Report,” which summarizes the work we accomplished in 2013.

JP365 Report Cover

The report highlights:

Much of the work we produced is available on our website and is all licensed under Creative Commons for reuse (CC BY-NC-SA). We encourage you to incorporate these resources into your own scholarship, activism and teaching.  Please join our email list to stay up-to-date on our latest work!

You can download a PDF of the report here or read it online.

Guide to Good Presentations

One of the traditional forms of presenting academic work is to read a paper. Literally. I’ve seen this done for years. A scholar will stand and read a paper aloud to a group of seemingly intelligent people, as if the mark of an intellectual is how much boredom one can endure.  It’s dreadfully dull as an information delivery mechanism.

This form of presenting academic work has changed to include the use of slides. The problem is that this is often just a glorified version of reading a paper, with far too much text and charts crammed into slides that are impossible to read. This is sometimes referred to as “death by powerpoint.”

We can do better than this. And, indeed, if we’re interested in communicating scholarly ideas with a wider public, we need to get better at this.  Here are some resources for how to do this.

Guidelines for Good Presentation Slides 

Unlearning Restrictions Culture

A few years ago, I was part of a panel called “Copyright, Fair Use and Open License Tools Online”  at the CUNY IT Conference. What I remember most about this session was the discussion. After my colleagues and I had finished our presentations–which outlined ways to alternatively license a work, Open Access issues, and Fair Use–a CUNY faculty member reflected that they hadn’t realized just how much there was to consider when publishing academic work–from the ways one might use an open license, to negotiating green or gold open access to their work with a publisher. This participant wondered why the topic of authors’ rights hadn’t been discussed with them before, and how they might now spread the word to colleagues about the many options that are available.

Librarians at CUNY have been working to fill this gap that our colleague inquired about at that panel in 2011. We’ve been offering authors’ rights workshops at many campus libraries where we begin conversation about what rights and restrictions we all can investigate and negotiate while sharing our work. But I think a bigger piece of this discussion for me has been to try to foster moments in which we feel free to unlearn or re-learn, or where we might feel confident to challenge the status quo, or to shed hegemonic tendencies that keep us from exploring new futures.

Copyright Machine by doctormo

Copyright Machine by doctormo

Those of us involved in the MOOC “The History and Future of (mostly) Higher Education” talked about unlearning in particular during our lunchtime discussion last week. During these discussions, I’ve been thinking back to a formative class I took in high school where we explored the history of the United States through a progression of landmark Supreme Court cases. Not only did it teach me quite a bit about a variety of decisions that have set precedent for our laws today, it also strengthened my ability to see these laws as constructs, as conversations, and as works in progress. I remember realizing in that class more than I ever had before that laws are plastic, and that they can (and often should) be altered. I’ve been feeling really indebted to that teacher (thanks Zanner!) for helping us all to think through what we discussed in that classroom, because our conversations have shaped my approaches since when I contemplate rules, regulations, and governance.

Since last week, I’ve been thinking about how one can foster un-learning, re-learning, or cultivate tendencies to break from tradition and reset our thinking anew. This can be hard with topics that are ingrained, intimidating–or that can be made to feel more permanent than they are, like the law. Like our colleague described at the CUNY IT Conference, it can be difficult to imagine alternatives at times, or to see the full landscape of an issue, rather than just our one perch’s perspective. Copyright is one topic that feels complex and proscribed, and it can be difficult to think our way around all the myriad ways that we have been taught to uphold the sort of permissions culture that it generates. And yet as we move into a world that insists we all become makers and coders and sharers, I think it becomes increasingly important to consider the licenses (or the restrictions, or the permissions) that regulate our activities–not just for the things we make, but also for the things we read, download, share and use.

Mimi & Eunice Dreadful Business Model

Mimi & Eunice Dreadful Business Model

I suppose what I’m really asking here is how, and in what ways, should we re-learn, or unlearn standard approaches to copyright? And what role does this conversation have inside of scholarly communications discourses today? And within libraries? How do those of us who believe in open access or free software share what we know without propagandizing or becoming the next thing to forget, and to unlearn?

Graduate Center CUNY Librarian, Alycia Sellie offers this week’s Topic Series post on Scholarly Communication. How do we unlearn the restrictions copyright law has imposed on our thinking?

Toolkit

We initially released our JustPublics@365 Social Media Toolkit in December and now we’re pleased to announce you can add us to your Kindle.

Toolkit_Amazon

The idea behind the Toolkit is simple.

Many academics want to engage in research and produce knowledge that informs progressive social change. Digital media technologies are making it easier for academics to connect their research with people, community groups, and movements who are also trying to bring about social change. Yet, most academics are perplexed about how to share their research with publics beyond the academy.

JustPublics@365 is here to help meet this unmet need, connecting academics and social change agents through digital media for the public good. Our toolkit, available in multiple e-book formats, is an easy way to get started.

Get it three ways:

Launching New Series on Scholarly Communication

We’re launching a new series on Scholarly Communication in the Digital Era for the Public Good.  As we’ve done with the previous series, we’ll feature guests and highlight work here across traditional silos of academia, activism and journalism and media.

card catalog

(Image Source)

In the 20th century, scholars communicated within relatively small fields of other experts and did so primarily through monographs and peer-reviewed journal articles. Those works of scholarship were discoverable because they were indexed and sorted into card catalogs and bound reference manuals.

These analog forms of scholarly communication are now joined by new modes of digital expression that augment and occasionally supplant earlier forms.  In this final topic series, we will explore changes in the modes and emphases of scholarly communication, examining the shift from book- and journal-centric academic publishing to open access hybrids and alternatives, including film and video.

We’ll also explore the ways that social media can serve scholars to connect their work with wider audiences, including non-academic readers, activists, journalists and engaged citizens. What responsibilities do scholars have to shape and reflect public understandings? What can academics do to contribute fully to efforts to enhance the public good?

As part of our series here, we’ll recap the Friday in-person discussions we’re hosting of Cathy Davidson’s meta-MOOC on the future of (mostly) higher education (#FutureEd).  These changes in higher education and scholarly communication are intricately connected to the debates happening around, “open access,” and we’ll feature regular contributions from experts in this area. We’ll talk about the changing landscape of “impact” in scholarly communication, as well as the implications this has for the work we do as academics,  particularly for early career scholars. And, finally, we’ll feature regular interviews with some of today’s leading documentary filmmakers, discussing the many ways that their work traverses scholarship, activism, art, and journalism to create social change.

It’s going to be a great series, we hope you’ll follow along! And, of course, at the end of the series, we’ll bring it all together in one, handy easy-to-read and download format.

JustPublics@365 Toolkit: Social Media Guide for Academics

Academics engage in research and produce knowledge that, intentionally or not, may inform progressive social change.  Digital technologies are making it easier for academics to connect their research with movements and community groups who trying to bring about social change.  However, many academics may still be perplexed about how to use social media.

JustPublics@365 is here to help meet this need, connecting academics and social change agents through social media.   Our toolkit, available in multiple e-book formats, is an easy way to get started.

toolkit cover

Get it three ways:

Podcast Series Launch

This October, JustPublics@365 is launching a podcast series highlighting research by CUNY faculty on issues of social justice and inequality.

The series will feature the work of faculty from the Political Science, Sociology, English, Psychology, Social Work, Anthropology, and Music departments who will share insights from their research as well as how they came to do the research they do and how that research might connect to social justice activism and may have an impact on the world beyond academia.

Scheduled interviews include conversations with Janet Gornick, Juan BattleMargaret ChinMike Fabricant, Michelle Fine, Ashley DawsonFrancis Fox Piven, Victoria Sanford, Leith Mullings and others.

The first podcast, an interview with Janet Gornick, will be released on Monday, October 7.

From Tweet to Blog post to Peer-Reviewed Article: How to be a Scholar Now

Digital media is changing how I do my work as a scholar.  How I work today bares little resemblance to the way I was trained as a scholar, but has everything to do with being fluid with both scholarship and digital technologies.  To illustrate what I mean by this, I describe the process behind a recent article of mine that started with a Tweet at an academic conference, then became a blog post, then a series of blog posts, and was eventually an article in a peer-reviewed journal.

My article, Race and racism in Internet Studies: A review and critique (New Media & Society 15 (5): 695-719), was just published in the August, special issue of New Media & Society on The Rise of Internet Studies, edited by Charles Ess and William Dutton.  The germ of an idea for the paper began at the American Sociology Association Annual Meeting in 2010.  I attended sessions about online discourse and, given my interest in racism in online discourse, I kept expecting some one to bring up this issue.

NoSoMuch_Aug2013 I was disappointed by the lack of attention to racism, or race more generally, in the sessions I attended, and Tweeted that observation, using the hashtag of the conference (#asa2010).  When I consulted the program for the conference I was truly perplexed to find that the only session on race and digital media was the one I’d help organize.  In a lot of ways, a Tweet is just a “soundbite” in 140-characters of text.  And, as the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson suggests, there’s nothing wrong with a soundbite, especially if you want to reach a wider audience than just other specialists in your field.

That one Tweet – and the lack of scholarship it spoke to – got me thinking about the kinds of sessions I would like to see at the ASA and the sorts of things I thought sociologists should be studying in this area, so I wrote a blog post about it, “Race, Racism & the Internet: 10 Things Sociologists Should be Studying.”  As I usually do now, I shared that blog post via Twitter.

 RRBlogTweet_Aug2010

I got many responses from people who shared their work, and the work of their students, friends and colleagues, with me in the form of comments to the blog or @replies on Twitter. The suggestions for further citations came from people I know almost exclusively through our interactions via the blog or Twitter. That feedback from geographically-remote, institutionally-varied yet digitally-close colleagues got me thinking about expanding that single blog post into a series of posts.  I wanted to review the wide-range of interdisciplinary work happening in what Ess and Dutton call “Internet studies.”   Why bother with this, one might reasonably ask?

Central to this new workflow of scholarship is the blog, Racism Review (RR), which I started in 2007 with Joe Feagin, a past president of the ASA, with the goal of creating an online resource for reliable, scholarly information for journalists, students and members of the general public who are seeking solid evidence-based research and analysis of “race” and racism.  The blog has very much become part of “how to be a scholar” in the current, digital moment.  I use it to post first drafts of ideas, to keep up-to-date on the research literature, and since I firmly believe that writing is thinking, I often use it to work out just what I think about something.  The blog has also become a way to support other scholars both in their research and in teaching.  A number of academics have told us that they use the blog in teaching; one, Kimberley Ducey (Asst. Prof., University of Winnipeg) uses RR blog posts in an instructor’s manual for a traditional intro sociology textbook as lecture suggestions, in-class activities, and essays/assignments.  Through the many guest bloggers we host, I learn about other people’s scholarly work that I might not otherwise know about.  And, the blog has become a mentoring platform, where early career scholars often get started with blogging and then go on to create their own.  The blog is also content-hungry, so I’m always thinking about scholarship that might make an interesting blog post.  So, back to the series of posts.

From late February to early March, 2011, I did a series of blog posts that expanded on the initial “10 Things,” post from August, 2010.  Those posts were all about the current scholarship on race, racism and the Internet with each one focusing on a different sub-field in sociology, including: 1) Internet infrastructure and labor force issues; 2) digital divides and mobile technology; 3) racist social movement groups; 4) social networking sites; 5) dating; 6) housing; and 7) the comments sections of news and sports sites.  This last area, racism in comments sections, prompted a research collaboration with one of the presenters from that 2010 ASA session I organized. The paper from that project eventually appeared in the journal Media, Culture & Society.

At about the same, there was a fortuitous Call for Papers for the Ess & Dutton special issue on Internet studies at 15 years into the field.  So I combined all of the blog posts into one paper, and thought more about what my critique of the field as a whole might be.  For that critique, I ended up revisiting some of Stuart Hall’s earlier writing about the “spectacle” of race in media scholarship and incorporated that with elements of Joe Feagin and Sean Elias’ critique of “racial formation” as a weak theoretical frame for Internet studies.  The paper went into an extended peer review process, I revised it once, and it finally appeared (online ahead of print) in December 2012, and in print in August, 2013.

Except for the very end of this process – submitting the paper to the journal for peer-review – none of this way of working bares the least bit of resemblance to how I was trained to be a scholar.  My primary job as an academic is to create new knowledge, traditionally measured by the number of articles and books I produce. Traditional graduate school training has taught us to think of a “pipeline” of notes, posters, conference papers, journal submissions (and/or, book proposals), revisions, resubmissions and finally, print publication. For me, how to be a scholar now is completely different than when I went to graduate school because of the way that digital media infuses pretty much every step.

This process I’ve described here – from Tweet at an academic conference, to a blog post, to a series of blog posts to a paper that became an article – is just one of many possible iterations of how to be a scholar now using digital media.  Other permutations of how to be a scholar now might include live Tweeting an article you’re reading. Sometimes, when I get pre-set “alerts” in my email about newly published scholarship I’m interested in, I will share a title and a link via Twitter. If, upon reading further, I find the piece especially perspicacious, I may share select sentences via Twitter. If it happens that there’s a current event in the news that the article can help illuminate, then I’ll draft a blog post that incorporates it.

My experience with the germ of an idea shared as a Tweet at an academic conference that became a blog post, then a series of blog posts, and (eventually) a peer-reviewed is just one example of what it means to be a scholar now is changing.  From where I sit, being a scholar now involves creating knowledge in ways that are more open, more fluid, and more easily read by wider audiences.

 

~ This post originally appeared at the LSE Impact Blog.

Illustrated Blogging Advice for Researchers

I really think that you should blog. That whatever is getting in your way, you should shove it aside and just write something.

But let’s be honest, my advice is insufficient. As my last couple of posts went up I could just picture some of you saying, “well sure, it’s easy for you, you draw cartoons.”

So I sought out a little help (or rather, a lot of help). Today’s post features expertise from (and cartoons inspired by)…

  • Seth Godin (sethgodin.typepad.com)
  • Beth Kanter (bethkanter.org)
  • Henry Jenkins (henryjenkins.org)
  • Robert Kosara (eagereyes.org)
  • Jessie Daniels (racismreview.com/blog)
  • Nathan Yau (flowingdata.com)
  • Lisa Wade (thesocietypages.org/socimages)
  • Ewen Le Borgne (km4meu.wordpress.com)
  • Tom Murphy (aviewfromthecave.com)
  • David Henderson (fullcontactphilanthropy.com)
  • Jane Davidson (genuineevaluation.com)
  • Molly Engle (blogs.oregonstate.edu/programevaluation)
  • Jara Dean-Coffey (jcdpartnerships.com/towhatend)
  • Bonnie Koenig (goinginternational.com/blog)
  • Stephanie Evergreen (stephanieevergreen.com/blog)
  • Karen Anderson (ontopoftheboxeval.wordpress.com)
  • Pablo Rodriguez-Bilella (albordedelchaos.com)
  • Chi Yan Lam (chiyanlam.com)
  • Ann Emery (emeryevaluation.com)
  • Sheila B Robinson (sheilabrobinson.com)
  • Molly Hamm (mollyhamm.wordpress.com)
  • Jamie Clearfield (jclearfield.wordpress.com)

The Questions

I asked two questions, other than the slightly leading nature of the questions (woops, I’ll do better next time), I provided no direction on response length or style, so the responses varied greatly.

1. What’s been your biggest blogging challenge (finding the time, picking good topics, the technology, etc.)?

2. What piece of advice would you give (or have already given) to an evaluator or researcher interested in starting a blog?

Advice and challenges change over time, so it was important to me to reach out to bloggers with a wide range of experience. This post would not exist without the expert help. I’ve thanked each blogger, but if you get anything out of their advice, please send them your own appreciation.

***

A little admin before we get started…I’ve been considering putting together an online workshop on blogging for evaluators and researchers.

The basic approach would involve walking through content development, helping you set up the technology, and talking about strategies for reaching an audience. The workshop would take place on the web and include video tutorials and practical lessons.

I would want to do it right, so this would take a lot of work on my part, and I’ll only set this up if there is enough interest. So if you are interested, sign up here to let me know.

Jamie Clearfield

On challenges

I’d say the biggest challenge for me is actually hitting the publish button. Getting an idea that I think is worth writing about is challenging for sure – but I think the bigger issue is believing in the idea enough to actually put it out on the web. The first blog post sat as a draft for a bit and finally it was a “rip the band-aid off” moment…

Hit the damn publish button

Advice

I think the best advice I’ve gotten and would give is to just keep things simple and believe – believe in your ideas and experiences and that there are people who are reading. Don’t over think things too much and have fun.

Jamie Clearfield Advice

Molly Hamm

On challenges

Biggest blogging challenge: Keeping up with all of the information from other bloggers in the field while finding time to create your own contributions. I find that it can be easy to get so involved in following other conversations that you forget to add your own two cents! So you may feel as though you are actively participating in blogging and other e-communities while your own blog sits in silence (yes, I need to update my blog!)

Embarrassing story, blog journal

Advice

Create a regular schedule for blogging and stick to it. This is something that I really need to work on, but I think it’s important to set a realistic writing goal for your blog (number of posts per week, month, etc.) and then reserve a specific day/time per week/month where you commit to writing on a regular basis. This will ensure that you take the time to gather your thoughts and put them out into the blogosphere.

Also it’s useful to have handy a notepad (tdigital or Post-it!) to jot down inspiration/ideas when they hit. Especially useful to write down ideas as you’re sifting through other blog posts, tweets, reports, websites, e-learning, etc. This allows you to constantly use available information to inform your own writing (reading with a purpose that is actually connected to your blog!)

Molly Hamm Advice

Sheila B Robinson

On challenges

My biggest challenge is content. I have lots of ideas that spring to mind, but my challenges lie in:

a.) having enough “meat” to go along with an initial idea to flesh it out and write something I think will be relevant, interesting, helpful or useful to someone, and

b.) having the confidence to put it out there – I hold back sometimes thinking about the fact that lots of people are blogging about similar ideas (after all, the “hot topics” are of interest to lots of us), and wondering if I have enough of an original spin on something to create a viable post.

Blog diet program

Advice

I would give someone the same advice I received (from someone you know VERY well!) [ed. note: she's talking about me :) ]

a.) Just do it! You have virtually nothing to lose. I overcame the concerns about “what if I won’t have enough time or enough content, or enough visitors,” etc. by coming to terms with the fact that if I write something, there it is and it’s fine.

If I don’t have time or content, I simply don’t post. If the blog goes by the wayside and I decide to move on to other projects, I’m OK with that. Holding myself to a weekly schedule didn’t work for me for very long after all, and I’m OK with that. It may very well work for others, so I would advise them to try a schedule and see how it goes.

Blogging is somewhat like dieting – you may have to try different strategies; some may work for a short time, or a long time, or not at all, and you have to be willing to change your strategies based on your results. And your expected results are unique to you. Some people diet to lost weight, some to alleviate a health problem, some to feel better. Some people blog for fun and because they enjoy writing; others do it to build a reputation or clientele, or to sell their products.

b.) Some posts will be more interesting and receive more traffic than others, and so be it. Whether you’re Seth Godin, or Sheila Robinson, traffic will ebb and flow and I’ve learned that that is not what it’s all about for me.

Sure, it’s fun to watch the numbers and I get excited when I get more traffic and people are paying attention to my work. Who wouldn’t? But neither am I crushed when a post fails to generate much interest. It’s all fun for me, and the evaluator in me finds it interesting to look at my data and think about what people like and want to read. But I have nothing to sell right now, so my goals may be different from some others.

Sheila Robinson Advice

Ann Emery

On challenges

At first: Nor having anything to write about.

Now: Having way too much to write about.

Live Blogging a Meeting

Advice

Include an image with every post. Images make your content more share-able (aka a mini version of your image will show up when you and others link to your post on LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, etc.)… which means more views and more appealing, interesting posts.

Get creative. Avoid those generic stock images. Go for screenshots, photos you took yourself, videos, sketches, and cartoons.

Ann Emery

Chi Yan Lam

On challenges

My biggest blogging challenge… probably has to do with finding the time. It takes a real commitment to sit down and produce something of a ‘blah’ quality, let alone something of a ‘wow’ quality. It’s challenging because blogging isn’t particularly accorded any value within academia. (Can it really go no my CV? No.)

I wrote this post for you

Advice

1) I kept a blog for more than a year before gaining any traction. The turning point for me was when I started the 5×52 project. I let go of the idea that I had to write full-length scholarly ‘high-quality’ posts.

I realized that the blog could be a space for my thinking. Instead of insisting on writing for an audience, I wrote for myself. I guess what this boils down to is this: Blogging is simply a platform. There are many successful models of blogging. The important thing is to make blogging goals consistent with one’s goals. Don’t Emulate. Create.

2). I really buy into the whole concept of digitals scholarship. It starts with the belief that no research is good unless communicated. Building on that, I believe that all academics/researchers should engage in knowledge dissemination. For a practical field like ours, it makes sense to engage in digital scholarship — blogging, tweeting, etc…

Chi Yan Lam

Pablo Rodriguez-Bilella

On challenges

Being regular and constant has been my biggest blogging challenge. Some (good) months I can write two or three times what I write in others (bad months). I have also tried to have at least a “light post” each week (smartly call “Viernes Light”), but the issue of regularity has also been present there.

I cannot say that I can´t find good topics to pick, usually the problem has been that there are several good topics I would like to write about them.

I was spam

Advice

Writing a post is usually lot of work, but don´t forget to let the world know about it! You should become a good friend of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and find the smartest way to post in each of them.

For instance, in LinkedIn you should carefully select the groups more appropriate for your topics, and be careful to not spam every group with your messages (you will receive some warnings before being expelled for not following the etiquette).

Pablo Rodriguez-Bella Advice

Karen Anderson (ontopoftheboxeval.wordpress.com)

On challenges

I’ve been blogging for a couple years now and I’d say the fire burns out for me at times and I can’t think of anything fresh or relevant.

Blogger's Block

Advice

Don’t start, it becomes quite the addiction. (lol)
look outside of evaluation for inspiration and tips…places like problogger.
Make efforts to engage and partner with bloggers online and offline.
Consitency is king
Find a niche…quick, you don’t want people guessing what they’ll get from you all the time.
Subscribe and comment on other Eval blogs
Have a larger purpose for your blog, what mark do you want to make, what’s the ‘end goal’?

Karen Anderson Advice

Stephanie Evergreen

On challenges

Opening myself to criticism. Blogging was originally just an outlet for me but as it grew and got attention I realized the world includes people who like to argue and Internet trolls.

Troll Armor

Advice

Choose topics you want to learn more about and use the blog as an excuse to bone up on your skills or knowledge a bit.

Stephanie Evergreen Advice

Bonnie Koenig

On challenges

I haven’t had any particular blogging challenges. Perhaps because I came ‘late to blogging’ compared to many of my colleagues and friends, I asked for a lot of advice before I started blogging and mostly knew what to expect (and perhaps challenges to anticipate).

Heed my words

Advice

Blog when you have something useful to share – don’t be bound by specific timelines and feeling like you ‘have to write something’.

Bonnie Koenig Advice

Jara Dean-Coffey

On challenges

I think it is probably two things:

1) Finding a concentrated amount of time (at 2 to 3 hours) to focus in on a topic and then move in to writing a strong enough drive that requires no more than 30 minutes to refine, and

2) Creating a range of voices that speak to our approach, our experiences and reflections that resonate with a variety of audiences and which compel others to take risks, have confidence in their inherent knowing and to strengthen their intentionality.

There it is behind the couch

Advice

Spend some time looking at other people’s blogs and the blogs they read. Find ones that speak to you in terms of perspective and tone.

Ask yourself a few questions (I have a couple worksheets) such as:
a) why do I want to write,
b) what do I want to write about,
c) who is my audience and what interests them,
d) what is my perspective/voice (expert, trainer, synthesizer….) ..etc.

And now, just write. Make yourself a schedule and commit. It doesn’t get any easier unless you practice. Oh, and part of the value I find in blogging is disciplined reflection on my own practice.

Jara Dean-Coffey

Molly Engle

On challenges

My biggest blogging challenge is what to write…there is so much; yet is it timely, needed, wanted? I have to remember that evaluation is an everyday activity…however obscure. (I ignore the technology unless something goes wrong; I am, after all, a technopeasant.)

The peasants are blogging

Advice

Starting a blog—be passionate about your topic; if you are, you will always be able to write something even if it doesn’t seem timely or needed. (chocolate torte, anyone?)

Molly Engle Advice

Jane Davidson

On challenges

Definitely finding the time! Patricia and I started strong but seem to have been so swamped with other things that it is difficult to get much up on the blog. But, we would rather do good stuff less often than just fill the space for the sake of it.

Personality Removed

Advice

The blogs I love the most are the ones where the bloggers’ personalities and senses of humor shine clearly through. Write good, thought-provoking stuff, but don’t be shy about putting your own signature spin on it.

The nice thing about blogs is that people deliberately opt to tune intoyou – unlike discussion lists, where we have to be conscious of chewing up too much of the airspace. Don’t swamp people with too much content, but make whatever you put out there fun to read! And a cute cartoon will do wonders as well! ;)

Jane Davidson Advice

David Henderson

On challenges

Finding the time is a good excuse, but I am too intimately aware of my stupid internet browsing habits to justifiably argue I don’t have time to blog.

I think more challenging is not to psych myself out. I will regularly start posts all to decide that whatever “insight” I’m writing about feels so plainly obvious to me, that it wouldn’t be valuable to anyone else, and then scrap the post all together.

Too busy mindlessly surfing the web

Advice

There’s a lot of crap and dubious advice out there. I always encourage folks who want to start blogging to not be afraid to elevate their posts above the all too common nonprofit blogging dribble.

I like to think about blogs as light version of a research report or paper. In this framing, blog posts are not totally absolved of the constraints of substantiating arguments and citing sources. The best bloggers are those who I learn from. To that end, I’d advise new bloggers to think about blogging as (at least in part) a teaching platform.

David Henderson Advice

Tom Murphy

On challenges

For me it is still getting over publishing and putting myself out there. Even when I am doing more of a reported story than a blog/opinion I feel a sort of resistance to publishing and the vulnerability that comes with it once it is out there. The other stuff is relatively easy for me at this point, but there is that fear of rejection or failure that immediately follows hitting the publish button.

Handling Vulnerability

Advice

Think of it as an extension of what you are already doing. You are reading and pulling together a lot of information and resources about what you know best. Blogging is a public way to gather that information, make a few notes and share with others.

The benefits are that people will interact with you. It can foster connections and potential suggestions/opportunities that may not have existed prior. Also, there is the fact that there is evidence showing how blogging about research can lead to more citations and reads of published works. As long as the person does not say anything improper, blogging is a great support for a researcher’s work.

Tom Murphy Advice

Ewen Le Borgne

On challenges

Originally it was the discipline to get at blogging and to carve out time for it. It took me 2 years to become a regular blogger but at some point it clicked and became a bit of an addiction – of the nice type though!

No, more recently I find that the challenge has been to precisely reverse the engine and to perhaps blog a bit less but really aim at good quality posts – the wow posts you mentioned. I sometimes post a piece that I know I’m not too happy with – but it’s sometimes difficult to resist the instant gratification of getting a post out there and seeing the reactions.

Toddler Blog

Advice

First off, to find out that they are not alone in this and to look at other testimonials and experiences from other researcher/evaluator bloggers (it’s likely to be much more convincing coming from their peers than from any other source), then to think carefully about the focus of their blog and its relation with their organisation/clients etc. This can become a thorny issue so it deserves a bit of thinking.

The rest is just fly and fly higher, trial and error, reflection all along the way, engagement… and fun! My personal motto if ‘fun, focus and feedback’ and I think it suits blogging pretty well :)

Ewen Le Borgne

Lisa Wade

On challenges

Thinking big picture, one of the biggest and most exciting challenges is change. Adapting to unexpected change started right away.

When we started blogging six years ago, the idea was that it would be a place for my sociology instructor friends to swap images we were using in teaching. As more and more people started reading who weren’t sociologists, we had the opportunity to adapt the site, making it a place for anyone interested in sociological commentary. The result was a lot more work and responsibility, but the reward was proportionally exciting.

Technological change has also offered both opportunities and new demands. When we started, blogs were just blogs. As the years have gone by, the importance of being on Facebook (especially) and Twitter (secondarily so) and the fun possibilities of things like Pinterest have emerged. Now it isn’t just Sociological Images, it’s Sociological Images and its auxiliary sites. These are now all part of the day-to-day work and reward of the site.

Finally, my own career has changed in ways that I never anticipated. The blog has made me more visible as a social commentator and I’ve had wonderful opportunities to speak to journalists, write for well-known outlets, and travel for public speaking.

Together, the rising readership, expanding reach of the site, and the new dimension to my career has required me to adapt many times over. It’s been a fun, but wild ride.

Digital Media Conglomerate

Advice

Academic blogging is, I believe, win-win. As a community, the more we share each others material and try to draw attention to each other, the more social science will become a go-to way of thinking about social problems.

So, if you’re interested in starting a site, think about all other sites as your friend. Borrow their content, let them borrow yours. Talk them up and refer people there. Link and link again.

When we all do our best to draw attention to social science as a lens, more and more people will visit all of our sites. When they do that, the policy makers, voters, and Thanksgiving table debaters all become better able to understand our world and help others understand too. And that’s a wonderful thing.

Lisa Wade Advice

Nathan Yau

On challenges

The biggest challenged with FlowingData is probably maintaining the right balance between academic and casual. If I get too technical, I confuse a lot of readers, but I can’t get too casual, because I might oversimplify concepts that are actually complex.

Minimum Viable Explanation

Advice

It’s really easy to start a blog these days, so you might as well try it out. Some researchers might be worried that the general public will misunderstand findings, but it’s a great chance for you to explain what you do and involve yourself with groups of people who are excited about the same stuff as you.

Nathan Yau Advice

Jessie Daniels

On challenges

I would say that the biggest challenge with blogging has to do with time. And, by this, I don’t mean “finding the time” to blog, but more to do with pacing.

I’ve been blogging at Racism Review since 2007, along with Joe Feagin, the blog’s co-founder (and, long ago, my dissertation chair). Ours is a scholarly blog, so we’re always trying to take some current event or news item and reflect it through the research literature to add a new dimension. The pace of how quickly things happen online and the pace of how slowly scholarly research happens are really at odds with each other. I often find that by the time I’ve really thought deeply about some item rippling through Internet, the moment of when that is ‘new’ has long since passed.

The other challenge that has to do with pacing is thinking about the long haul. We’ve been blogging since April, 2007 which, according to my math, is a little over six years. When we first started it, we tried to blog every day. Posting every single day is a pretty daunting pace to keep up with over a long period of time. To help ease that burden, we’ve tried to enlist as many ‘guest bloggers’ and additional contributors as possible, but sometimes cajoling other academics into blogging presents its own set of challenges. In general, I think we’ve done pretty well keeping it up given that Joe and I have very busy academic lives beyond the blog.

Academic vs blog timing

Advice

I get asked for advice about blogging fairly often and my biggest advice is to figure out what your particular niche or formula is. As I mentioned, at Racism Review, we try to connect current events having to do with race or racism to solid academic research. Having a really very clear, specific idea at the outset about what your contribution will be makes it much easier to get started and to maintain it over time.

Jessie Daniels Advice

Robert Kosara

On challenges

There is an obvious answer here and there is a somewhat deeper one. Of course it’s a challenge to find the time. I could do other things. I could read. I could sleep. I could go for a run.

I think the biggest challenge has been to find the right direction for this blog. After almost six years, I’m still not sure where this thing is going. I keep changing direction. Sometimes, somebody tells me they do or don’t like something. But I don’t have a clearly defined audience like a fashion blog or a technology blog or similar.

It’s not that there aren’t enough good topics, there are more than I could ever write about. Rather, the question is what do I think I can contribute to? I don’t care about just posting links to interesting stuff, others do that already and I can’t bring myself to just summarize what somebody else has done for a link posting.

The challenge is to not let that paralyze you. I keep a list of topics in my todo program, in a folder. When I don’t know what to write, I look through those and pick one. You need to keep writing, and you need to try things to see if they work. A simple posting today, a little visualization project next week, then a book review, etc.

To summarize it in a word, perhaps the biggest challenge is consistency. Consistency in topics, style, and frequency.

Which way to go

Advice

I have three pieces of advice.

1) Don’t worry about the technology. Don’t tinker. Just write.

2) Pick an audience to write for, but don’t get too focused on that. Your audience might change. People you wouldn’t have expected to read your blog will read it. Be prepared to go outside the box and change direction accordingly. But to write reasonably well, you need to have an idea of who you’re writing for.

3) Hang in there. Nobody will read your blog at first. Nobody. After a year, you might have a few readers. Don’t give up. A blog doesn’t just explode onto the Internet (unless you’re incredibly lucky). It’s going to take time. If you give up after a few months with just a few readers, you will never get more.

Robert Kosara Advice

Henry Jenkins

On challenges

Before I started blogging, the biggest concern I had was whether I would have the time to keep up with my blog. The advice I got from Cory Doctorow (Boing Boing) was “make the time.” And he was right.

Reflect and Blog

Advice

For me, a key is integrating the blog into the broader range of activities I am doing, so I am always looking for ways to use the blog in my teaching, my research, my recreation life, my friendships. You need to decide going in how often you are going to blog and stick to it like you would do any other deadline.

On any given day, there is always going to be something more pressing than blogging, so if you do not think of it as a responsibility to yourself and your readers, you will slow down and eventually stop. I think of it as like a journalist putting out a daily edition, i.e. it’s a deadline that must be met.

I put it out at a consistent time on a consistent day and I can count on my fingers the number of times I have missed a deadline since I started my blog in 2006. When I need to take a break, I announce that I am doing so and give myself permission for downtime, but I do not miss a deadline arbitrarily on a day in, day out basis.

Given the complexities of my life, this means I am planning further and further ahead, so I have a fall back if a piece of content fails to materialize. For this to work, I end up balancing between topical issues and ever-green content that I hold in reserve in case I am facing a hole on any given day that needs to be filled.

Henry Jenkins Advice

Beth Kanter

On challenges

I’ve been blogging for ten years now. I love it. I look at it my personal learning time and I try carve out a half hour or hour every day to write about something. This reflection time is so important. But, with that said, what’s hard is to keep up the discipline so I make the time to reflect and write every day. Sometimes with a busy speaking schedule and client work, it is hard to do.

My biggest challenge is when I get bored … when my muse goes into hiding. Sometimes, I’m so excited new developments or new angles on topics that I’ve been writing about – but there are some times that ennui creeps in. What I do is allow myself to write about a slightly different or adjacent topic or recruit guest bloggers and take a break.

Trolling your own posts

Advice

Look at your blogging time as a form of professional development and a commitment to write something regularly. Don’t get caught up with making it perfect either …. a blog is different from writing a research article.

Beth Kanter Advice

Seth Godin

On challenges

Decide on the audience you want and ignore everyone else.

Speaking just to us

Advice

Write every single day. If something you write spreads to the audience you care about, and if it changes them in the way you hope, write more like that.

Seth Godin Advice

Discussion

Are you a blogger, if so, what are your biggest challenges? Have any advice to share, or reiterate?

Not a blogger, why not? What’s holding you back?

Let me know in the comments.

~ This post is by Chris Lysy and  originally appeared at FreshSpectrum; it is re-blogged here with permission.