When writing your blog, be aware that your reader might not necessarily be academic specialists, so keep your prose readable, accessible and concise. People don’t often have time to read long posts, so 500 words is optimum: better to have short pieces posted regularly, rather than lengthy pieces that appear only occasionally. One thousand words is also acceptable, but in this context probably the upper limit for a piece in which you might want to explore some issues in depth or are required to be less pithy.
Be sure to give your posts a meaningful title that gives readers a clue as to what your post is about but also draws them in. Something too opaque might confuse or irritate them, putting them off; something too denotative and unimaginative might not attract them in the first place. Look around at other blogs to see how people promote their posts with helpful and attractive headlines. Obviously, the Daily Mail is not an appropriate model for the kind of headlines I mean …
As well as your mellifluous prose, metadata is also important! Blogging platforms allow you to add other taxonomical features that assist readers in discovering your content and pursuing breadcrumbs to other associated material. The standard metadata features employed by most blogging platforms are categories and tags. Although similar in some ways, these metadata functions support different aspects.
- Categories indicate the type of content you are posting, to help readers gauge the kind of entry to expect: in this case, we have set up three: Reflections (general items, which you will most likely use at the start of your blogging), Project Reports (for when you wish to provide updates about your projects) and Reviews (in case you wish to review books, events, exhibitions, resources, other blogs, even films, in your post). There is also an ‘Uncategorized’ category, but these are rather unhelpful, as they don’t really guide readers usefully anywhere. If you feel the three categories aren’t quite capturing some of the content you wish to write, drop me a line and I can add the ones you suggest. You can assign multiple categories to your posts.
- If anything, tags are far more important than categories, because they describe the content itself. You can think of them as entries in an index: they point readers to the subject matter of your post, and related posts, by using keywords on which readers can click. No doubt, when you’ve read blogs yourselves you’ll have availed yourself of this facility. A tag-less post is a sorry creature, as it might often be overlooked or lonely because it doesn’t connect to other posts. As an author, you should be able to just add your tags directly. If a tag has been used before on the site, an autocomplete option should appear so that you can consistently use a single tag than having variants that confuse readers (e.g. ‘nineteenth century’, ‘nineteenth-century’ or ’19th century’?). You should provide around 6–10 tags for each post that capture the subject matter and context for your post (e.g. ‘literature’, ‘books’, ’19th century’, ‘illustrations’). There is no hard-and-fast rule as to how the tags should appear, but my suggestions are you should use the shortest form (’19th century’ not ‘nineteenth century’), plurals where appropriate (‘books’ not ‘book’, but ‘fiction’, ‘writing’, etc.) and nouns rather than adjectives (’19th century’ rather than ’19th-century’).
A picture is worth a thousand words (or maybe 500–1000): online reading is as much a pictographic experience as it is a textual one. Many blog platforms give you the facility of attaching an image that attracts or informs readers about your content. You should make sure that you avail yourself of this possibility too. As well as including illustrative, contextual or thematic images within your posts (using the Insert content/media button in the toolbar), the visual theme we’ve used for PMAR allows you to include a Featured Image that appears in the opening page of the site alongside your entry. In this case, I’ve used a stack of books, given the literary focus of the module. You can be as literal or as metaphorical as you wish, but including a Featured Image will also make your post look polished and interesting. There are a wide range of images available on Flickr, Wikimedia Commons and various academic portals: be careful to avoid infringing copyright by using images without permission that are not open access or Creative Commons licensed, particularly those from image stock companies like Alamy or Getty Images: they can be quite ruthless in chasing people down! If you have any doubts, drop me a line.
Finally (although perhaps the should be first), you should make sure that having received your invite, that your author profile is as detailed as it can be. If you don’t mind, include a photo alongside it, as this helps identify you alongside a brief text description. The theme used for PMAR includes quite a substantial space at the end of the post where your author bio and picture is featured. It’s good practice to make sure that your byline carries some basic information about you. But of course, this is a personal choice and if you’d rather keep your identity more oblique that’s fine as well.
If you have any uncertainties about any of the issues raised above, feel free to get in touch. You can also look for examples of good practice by examining what other bloggers do, as well as checking out what previous PMAR students have done by visiting the old PMAR website. And remember that if you do spot an error once you’ve pressed the ‘Publish’ button, you can always go back and make corrections …
This has almost certainly gone over the 1000-word rule, so I’ll leave it there.