To sum up my master’s capstone defense and how CharacteRistic will change as a result, I’ve narrowed it all down to a list of seven (an infamously magical number). Other bloggers, especially academic bloggers, can benefit from this information because it gives you a rationale for academic blogging and tips on how to increase viewership. For a more detailed explanation of the below, check out my original public presentation (link above).
1. Academic Blogging is Absolutely Necessary
As scholars, it is our responsibility to share the information we learn within the privileged walls of the Ivory Tower with those outside them. Frey (2009) reminds us that most of the stuff scholars write is extremely hard to comprehend for policy makers, practitioners, and the public (p. 206). Scholarly journals were made for scholars to read, not for the public. Through translational scholarship, Frey tells us that scholars should ‘translate’ the overly complex language of academia into more easily understood language that everybody understands. Academic blogging is necessary because it creates an excellent platform on which to share translational scholarship with many outside the walls of academia.
On CharacteRistic, I will continue to strive to do this by keeping the mission statement in mind as I write every new post.
2. Three Types
There are three types of academic bloggers (Gregg, 2009; Walker, 2006). The first type focuses on the identity of the blogger and can focus on public intellectuals, the second type focuses purely on discussing current research, and the third type is used anonymously by bloggers to vent about the academic workplace culture.
CharacteRisitic is a combination of the first and second types, but does not focus on a specific workplace culture. In order for an academic blog to reach a wide audience with useful information from inside the Ivory Tower, bloggers must practice successful strategies to increase blog traffic (amount of readers). These strategies are:
3. Quality, Quality, Quality
Leo Babauta, one of the world’s most successful bloggers, tells us that quality content is THE most important component of successful blogs. To consistently produce the best quality content, academic bloggers must (1) write about things that are useful to their audience , (2) write great headlines, (3) make blog posts scannable by incorporating headings and subheadings, and (4) write in a common-sense style. Great quality and common-sense writing lend themselves to more readers and subscribers.
By analyzing some of my posts for the master’s defense, I found the more popular ones did indeed incorporate some of the above more than the less popular ones. The plan is to continue to write common-sense style posts, with great headlines and subheadings, that will be of use to the audience.
Commenting on the posts of other bloggers and effectively responding to comments on our own blogs is an important step in encouraging new readers to come and old ones to stay. Academic bloggers have struggled with this because it is very hard to encourage the audience to comment (Baym, 2009; Kirkup, 2010). Pratik Dholakiya suggests that focusing on writing strongly opinionated content will increase comments because opinionated content attracts stronger comments.
I will start to comment more on the blogs of other people and will also work on writing more opinionated content. Furthermore, I aim to write more assertively. Many of my older posts come off apologetic, and nobody wants to interact with an apologetic and overly-sensitive-appearing blogger.
Readers love simplicity. Less is more, especially when it comes to the design of the website. Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits is a great exemplar of a simple blog design. I will work on making CharacteRistic as simple as I can.
6. Image SEO
Search engine optimization (SEO) is described by Wendy Boswell (in this link and other articles) as making a blog visible to search engines such as Google through strategic use of keywords that relate to the target audience. Furthermore, SEO of images used in blog posts is described as an often overlooked factor for driving traffic. By giving images names that relate to the theme of the blog and by strategically using captions, a lot of readers can be brought to your website.
I found image SEO to be a significant factor in why my most popular posts ended up being so popular, thus I will start to use images and their names/captions more strategically.
7. Social Networking
Along with the items mentioned above, using social media effectively is a great way to increase blog traffic. CharacteRistic now has a Facebook page (please like it!) and a YouTube channel (I’m going to Turkey this summer, and plan to do video updates). I’m also adding new posts to the StumbleUpon directory, and am hoping to start using other social networking sites that can help with increasing traffic, such as Digg.
Making a Difference
I’m in academia because I can make a difference by doing research that I’m passionate about and then sharing those results with other people through teaching, consulting, and public translational scholarship. CharacteRistic is a major component of that ‘public translational scholarship’ branch, and it has already made a difference because over 16,000 people from all over the world have looked through the information I’ve shared on here (see map below). Other scholars not only can, but should, do this as well.
Voltaire (not Uncle Ben from Spider-Man) said, “With great power, comes great responsibility”. This quote applies to scholars as well. We are in a privileged position in society, and thus have a responsibility to share what we know with the rest of the world, not just each other.