This post was inspired by a comment on the UWE DocSoc Facebook group that spoke of anxiety when it comes to writing blogs or online diaries. It’s a topic I am familiar with both as someone who writes this blog but also through my interaction with researchers on workshops about using digital tools.
I suppose a good deal of the anxiety can be associated with imposter syndrome that is common in academia or with fears that someone might steal your ideas or, that your reputation/employment might be jeopardised if you write about contentious things or that blogs will take up all your time.
Cost benefit analysis
Overall I believe that using social media tools will bring more benefit than harm to researchers who are early in their career. I think this because getting your work, your expertise and interests out there helps to establish you as a researcher known in the field. It can lead, sometimes serendipitously, to opportunities to do interesting things that might not have come around. It has certainly been this way for me – people can see what I do professionally, they can see examples of my work and this sometimes leads to mini projects that I wouldn’t have initiated myself all of which adds to the rich and varied nature of my work!
Having said that though it is also important to understand that the internet and the digital social world is not always innocuous; things said and written about online can be misconstrued and lead to unintended consequences. There are those in the academy who think that you shouldn’t make time for social media because it is perceived to be frivolous or, worse feeding our addiction to distraction and diminishing our ability to focus on cognitively difficult things.
I think that the main benefit of writing some kind of blog or research diary is of use to early career researchers to help with writing practice. The more you write, the more it becomes normal to do so. I am currently sitting in a writing group space specifically for late stage doctoral students in a Thesis Boot Camp who are battling away at writing their dissertations. The more you practice, the easier it becomes..
Some thoughts that helped me get going
- I started blogging for purely selfish reasons – I needed a space to write down my thoughts about workshops I had facilitated in terms of the context of the topic, what materials I used and where I might make it different in the future. It is a reflective space for my own work.
- I am able to use an informal way of writing about these things because it is “just about workshop materials”
- I can go back and edit spelling mistakes and clunky sentences if I want to
- People who ask for the resources I use can be given a hyperlink instead of a paper handout
- I don’t feel pressured to write to any timetable – just write up some thoughts after an event
Things that still challenge me
It’s been about 5 years since I started a blog, firstly on Posterous (now gone) and latterly on wordpress and have now written an entry on pretty much everything I have done. I do go back and edit posts to update materials, text but therein lies a challenge. Should I re-post as a new entry and have it listed at the top of the blog timeline? The downside is that this creates a new hyperlink for that post and breaks any that have been linked to elsewhere.
On a purely technical side note, wordpress.com (not wordpress.org) has some limitations on what you can embed in a blog post. I use Prezi for some of my resources and you cannot embed a prezi directly into wordpress.com because it uses iframes as the embed code so I have to think of ways to work around this (using images with hyperlinks to the resource on prezi in case you were wondering!).
I have been wanting to write reviews of things I have read around researchers, development, finding success but find myself putting it off – I’m not sure why. So I’m not immune to blogging anxiety!
What about you? Do you have any tips/tricks for those wanting to write but feel anxious about doing so?
I'm a former researcher into the microbiology of the mouth who now runs a skills development programme for other researchers.