Vol. 2, No. 2 (Winter 2021)
Brian Hotson is the director of Academic Learning Services at Saint Mary’s University. He is the current co-editor the Canadian Writing Centre Review / revue Canadienne des centres de rédaction (CWCR/RCCR), and past editor of the WLN blog, Connecting Writing Centers Across Borders.
You’ve just received an unsolicited e-mail to write a post for an academic blog. The blog looks interesting, and you’re considering replying. But you have questions.
Blogging is growing, not waning, in importance for academic writers who are interested in testing and workshopping ideas, as well as finding collaborators and publishers. When used in combination with other media platforms, such as twitter, blogging can amplify a writer’s voice, audience reach, and provide a platform to promote ideas and concepts into their field and literature. Writers can use info graphics, gifs, and other multimodalities in addition to text, things often associated with academic journals. And, they are usually fairly quick to turn out.
Blogs are also a way to develop your current writing projects. Breaking down journal article sections into blog posts, for example, and blogging these sections can become an important writing development stage, especially for those sections that are causing headaches and writing blocks. Getting ideas out there is a great writing tool – blog posts are public-facing, open to comment, and can be shared with colleagues as think pieces and to publishers as pitch documents
If you’re a new writer wanting to establish a credible publishing record, blogging can be a means to develop your writing chops. Most good blogs will have an editorial team, much like a journal. They will work with you to produce polished text, even if that text doesn’t have an academic voice—or at least the academic voice that is usual for your field. Many academic blogs are rigorous, have blind (or blind-ish) readers, and require drafts. If you’re stuck in a writing rut, blogging can be an exciting way to shake things up.
Here are some questions to ask before you start writing.
What is the advantage for me to publish on this blog?
Are you able to advance your writing by posting to the blog? Think about this in two ways: Can I advance the current book chapter or journal article I’m writing by workshopping parts of it on a blog? Am I able to connect with colleagues and collaborators who can provide input and criticism of my work?
Who publishes this blog?
- Look at the blog’s About page – how long have they been posting? What is the story of their development as a blog? What are their affiliations.
- Look at the Editorial Team – Who are they? Do they have editorial experience? Can they help you with your writing? How long have they been at the job? High turnover of editors is not a good sign.
- Who publishes the blog – Are they associated with any groups that you’re interested in writing for? Are they part of the publishing house or academic journal? What are their politics?
- Do they have manuscript readers? Are they in your field? Do they have experience as readers? And, is it blind?
- Do they have a publishing schedule? When and how often do they publish?
- Do you retain copyright? Is the blog open source? Are they creative commons licensed, for example?
Look at the kinds of pieces the blog has published.
Do you want to be associated with this blog? Are they related to your field? Often times, unsolicited invites to publish come from new blogs, those associated with political view-points, or academic publishers. Read the fine print often at the bottom of the blogs Home for Welcome pages. Do a google search of the blog. Do you see any read flags? Ask your colleagues if they know of the blog.
Read a few of the pieces.
Their format should be similar to an academic article: introduction, in-text citations, proper formatting style, and references. Good blogs edit pieces and check citations, so if their missing these, you might reconsider, but note that the tone is usually journalistic and opinion-based, may be in the first-person.
Who else is posting on this blog?
Are they in the same place in their career as you? In the same field? Do you want to associate with those who have published on the blog? Find out where they’re associated, teaching, or researching. What other things have they published? Most good blogs will have author bios, which include all the posts they written for the blog. Do a Google Scholar search of some of the authors. What scholarly publications do they already have?
If the blog is new(ish), do you want to help them get things going?
You could become a regular contributor, as contributing writer, or editor. It’s also a way to do service work that will help others in your field and academic community.
They’ve invited you. Ask where they found your name.
Was this a mass e-mail ask? Why did they send an invitation to you specifically? Is this going to be a long-term relationship? Ask what they are looking for from you as a contributor.
Most of this work can be done fairly easily.
Writing is a practice, with no perfection. Blogging is a way to keep the writing going, especially if you’re stuck or need a change. So, before you delete that e-mail, take a second to consider what you might gain from posting.