Advice For Education BloggersJune 25, 2013
Since I first started blogging 57 years ago I’ve picked up a few ideas about how best to go about it. Also, scouring the interweb for reblogging fodder for the Echo Chamber, I have learnt a fair bit about where some bloggers go wrong. What follows is my advice. However, be aware that I am not claiming I have been, or will be, great at following it myself.
1) Think carefully about anonymity. If you are not going to be anonymous be very, very careful about what you write. Don’t mention your current school, current pupils or anything that might have a bearing on your professional life at the moment – even discussion of theoretical matters that have consequences for anything you are currently doing. If in doubt make sure you are anonymous. If you aren’t you will have to accept that what you can say is highly limited in terms of information you can give out and who you can risk annoying.
2) If you are anonymous, be careful. Anonymous bloggers are always being found out and often quitting as a result. There are definitely people who know who I am who I wish didn’t (nobody from last weekend, don’t worry). Often it is simply because when people start blogging they don’t particularly think it matters who knows and this comes back to haunt them later. Think through a contingency plan for what to do if you were found out. Limit the number of people who know who you are even if it’s tempting to do otherwise. That said, people who meet you in real-life are probably not going to be the biggest problem, it’s people who only know you online and don’t like what you say. So the key thing is to make sure there is no connection between what is written about you on the internet under your real name and under your blogger identity. Don’t do anything to express your views in public under your real name at the same time as you express them under an assumed name. If you can be uncovered using Google then there is a problem. If a work colleague would recognise you if they read your blog then there is a problem. When writing about real-life incidents then a delay is often advised.
3) Expect to get better with time. I won’t spend a lot of time on this point as I don’t really want to go on about how bad I was when I started, but blogging is something people tend to grow into and while the best often had something great about them from the start, they do still tend to improve with time.
4) Avoid cliches (like the plague). The three worst phrases I see in education writing are:
- “regurgitation of facts”
- “[education is] used as a political football”
- “the factory model of schooling”
Metaphors and similes should, as far as possible, be original and at the very least they should not be familiar. This is not just about style, but also about the amount of thought put into an argument. As Orwell pointed out “the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts” and the worst arguments are invariably those expressed in stock phrases. It’s almost guaranteed that if you use one of the above then you haven’t thought through what you are saying.
5) Use Twitter (and other social media) to support your blogging.
Twitter is where you can expect to get most hits. Tweet 3 or 4 links to every blogpost, varying the time of day if possible. Encourage the readers of your blog to follow you on Twitter. It really works. Other ways to get people to see your work are:
- Link to it in the comments of other blogs (where it’s justified);
- Share it on facebook;
- Let me know about your blog so I can put it on the Echo Chamber blogroll.
Be careful to ensure that you don’t overdo it and become seen as a spammer. Also, blog titles which give a clear indication of the content of a blogpost will also encourage people to follow links on social media.
6) Don’t use your blog to support your Twitter account.
Twitter is great as a source of inspiration, and a discussion on Twitter will often provide the basis for a good blogpost exploring an issue or an idea in more depth. However, you should not be assuming that your blog readers will have read your Twitter feed. Try to avoid in-jokes from Twitter, or assuming prior knowledge of a Twitter discussion. If you do continue a debate from Twitter then try to represent the Twitter argument first. Some of the worst blogs I have read recently have been written apparently as direct responses to something on Twitter that was not clearly identified.
7) Give credit where it’s due.
If you are answering or criticising something, please provide a link. Only in the most extreme cases should you respond at length to anything you haven’t clearly identified. Firstly, it’s very rude to talk about people behind their back. Secondly, it suggests that you have a problem with people hearing the other side of the argument. Thirdly, it may cause people to wonder if you are getting at them when you are not. Even if you are being critical of an idea, at least giving credit (particularly with a link) gives somebody a chance to respond and demonstrates that you are not responding to straw man.
Any time you are referring to someone else’s ideas, whether positively or negatively, identify them. We tend to remember ideas better than people (or at least I do) so we are always likely to repeat without credit the ideas of others accidentally, so it is important not to do it deliberately as well. People like to be credited with good ideas.
8) Use a popular platform and make your work easy to share.
This is something that might not have occurred to me before I started the Echo Chamber, but your work is more likely to be shared if there are other bloggers using the same platform. I would recommend WordPress (the actual site rather than using WordPress software on another site) as it is particularly easy to reblog. Blogger/blogspot is probably the next best option but pick a theme with the button for posting links. The “orange cogs of death” on blogspot are difficult to share even on blogspot (and difficult to read on some devices). Also, an established blogging site is less likely to be suddenly shut down. Early on I lost almost my entire blog when the hosting site was shut down without warning.
9) Be careful when repeating what you have heard elsewhere. Don’t blog what you read in the Guardian this morning. It’s good to share ideas but if the ideas were originally written in a national newspaper (especially one with an easily accessible website) they probably don’t need sharing in much detail. It is also worth checking facts before repeating them. False information seems to spread at incredible speed. Never use a quotation if it is not from a reliable or familiar source. “Inspirational” or “wise” quotations are routinely misattributed (See the Quote Investigator website for multiple examples). Also sometimes a quotation may turn out to mean something other than what you thought. As well as there being far too many education writers who quote the wisdom of Jean Brodie approvingly, I recently heard of a technology company using the slogan “A Brave New World”. Don’t make a literary reference if you don’t know the book; those who have may be shocked and appalled.
10) Don’t quit. As far as I know the only UK based education blogger who regularly gets more hits than me is Tom Bennett and a lot of his hits might be people desperately trying to find a way to navigate past the orange cogs of death. However, I haven’t become (possibly, I admit I don’t really know) the second most read education blogger in the UK by doing anything as difficult as being the (second) best. I have got here because all the people who were better than me when I started have quit and all the people who are better than me now haven’t had as long to find readers. Longevity seems to be the key to success as an education blogger. That and writing posts with “OFSTED” in the title.
As an additional point about not giving up, don’t get disheartened because of criticism. Expect it. The best of it will help you improve. The worst of it will only bring attention to your blog. Some of the worst blogs are written by SMT members who delete every comment disagreeing with them and block anyone who disagrees with them on Twitter. Blogging is essentially a public performance, so you should expect critics, and it’s better than being ignored.
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