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I am a junior academic (just finishing a PhD in computer science) and I'm considering starting an academic blog. My reasons for starting a blog are:

  • Fun.
  • Improving my visibility.
  • The benefit of science.

… basically, the same reasons I publish papers. (In a sense, academic blogging, is just a 21st century form of academic communication to supplement journals and conferences.)

However, I also have concerns:

  • Maintaining an active blog takes a lot of time and effort. (i.e. it may stop being fun.)
  • Fear of failure - many blogs die. (Does an inactive blog look bad?)
  • Being a junior researcher, I worry that people will not care about my blog or, worse, disagree with what I say.

So I want to ask for advice from people who have (or had) an academic blog:

Is academic blogging a good idea?
Does it become too much effort?
Is it worthwhile?
How likely is blog-death?
In general, what are pitfalls to watch out for when starting an academic blog?

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Related question How to archive an academic blog or website? – scaaahu Feb 14 at 3:41
This might be a duplicate of… – David Ketcheson Feb 14 at 10:56
In academics there will always someone disagree with you. Don't be afraid of disagreement. – Mast Feb 14 at 18:31
In fact when no one is disagreeing with you, you are either writing something trivial or academically not interesting. – Yet Another Geek Feb 15 at 12:43
Obligatory incredulous comment: You write papers for fun? ;-) – xebtl Feb 15 at 13:05

First of all, I'm not an academic yet, but I'm planning to be. I read a lot of academic blogs in my field daily or should I say, semi-academic. By semi-academic I mean that they have articles of an academic subject but with more in-layman's-terms approach. And I absolutely love all of them. I believe that being able to explain things simply is an art, not mention extremely valuable, and having a similar blog is something that I aim to do in the future.

To address your concerns:

Maintaining an active blog takes a lot of time and effort. (i.e. it may stop being fun.)

Yes it is. I've been blogging about tech (Android and Linux) in the past and after a while it became an extremely cumbersome experience maintaining a steady flow of news, reviews and opinion articles. BUT this is not what an academic blog is all about. You don't need a good article every day. You need a good quality article once or twice a month. This is not so hard.

Fear of failure - many blogs die.

They do. And yours might too. So what? Firstly, you shouldn't fear leaving your blog inactive for a couple of months. This is something you want to do, remember? If you don't have the time or you just don't feel like it for a while just don't do it. If you don't like the view of an abandoned blog after a few months just delete it. It's ok.

Being a junior researcher, I worry that people will not care about my blog...

Producing quality content is the key here. If you produce quality articles from which your readers learn stuff you'll find out that after a while a significant amount of them will care.

...or, worse, disagree with what I say.

That's the best part! Being a junior academic you already know that:

  1. Everything you say must be backed with evidence
  2. No matter the evidence some people will disagree with you

Disagreeing means views and comments. Disagreeing is how you'll make regulars. This is a key concept in blogging. Rarely you will get comments like "I completely agree with your article", not to mention that they don't have a special value. But comments like "I think that you forgot to include the fact that X" sparkle interesting conversations from which both parties learn.

To answer your questions:

Is academic blogging a good idea? Is it worthwhile?

Yes, it's a great idea and it will be worthwhile for you and your readers especially if your articles sparkle interesting conversations. An academic blog indeed increases visibility and creates a more friendly/casual view of the writer which in my opinion most of the times is very much needed.

Does it become too much effort?

Not if you limit yourself to one or two articles per month. Your goal is quality, not quantity. You're not a news site, you're an academic.

How likely is blog-death?

Very. So what? Just do it.

What are pitfalls to watch out for when starting an academic blog?

  1. Do it because you want to do it.
  2. Don't burn yourself out.
  3. Don't get stressed over the quantity. Aim for quality.
  4. Use a simple language.
  5. Be fun.
  6. Have fun.
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Is academic blogging a good idea?

Absolutely. Some day, people will be googling you. For instance, someone who read a paper of yours, or who needs to evaluate you for a grant or a scholarship. It's good if the first search result is a blog with quality material.

Does it become too much effort?

That depends on how much time you invest. One or two quality posts a month are quite sufficient, I'd say.

Is it worthwhile?

See above. Yes, it is.

How likely is blog-death?

Quite likely. So what?

In general, what are pitfalls to watch out for when starting an academic blog?

I'd see two potiential pitfalls.

  1. If you post too much, people will wonder whether you are spending time blogging that you should be spending doing "real" research. This is not a good impression to make, especially on more, ahem, traditional researchers that may be evaluating you for tenure.

  2. If you post too little, your blog will die, and few things are as sad as a blog with three entries from two years ago. In that case, consider deleting the entire blog if it's clear that you won't be doing any more of it.

To nip both problems in the bud, I'd recommend that you self-commit to, say, two posts a month, and to spend two to three hours on each - no more, but also no less. Block time in your calendar for this, just like for any other activity, so you'll actually do it when the time rolls around. (Maybe you already did a spontaneous post two days ago, in which case you suddenly have two to three free hours for more research!) In the meantime, keep a list of interesting topics.

  • Papers you have published
  • Interesting papers you have read
  • Cool things that happened during teaching
  • Conferences you plan on attending, or recently have attended (few people have the time to blog during a conference)
  • Guest speakers you have in your lectures or seminars
  • Interesting talks you heard
  • Later in your career: calls for papers in special journal issues you are editing, and similar things

Just read some academic blogs with an eye to what works well and what doesn't, and then develop your own style.

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Two to three hours seems like a remarkably short amount of time to write a quality blog post, unless you're a very fast planner and writer (the kind of person who can take a research paper from concept to completion in two or three weeks). – David Z Feb 14 at 20:00
@DavidZ: quite possibly. (I should have added the disclaimer that I'm not speaking from experience.) I'd simply be wary of investing half a day in a single blog post - this starts getting close to a serious commitment of time. Ideally, you'd post about something you already know a lot about. I'd trust myself to write a decent post about a paper I've written or read in three hours, or about a guest speaker. – Stephan Kolassa Feb 14 at 20:03
Well, yes, I'm not disputing that half a day is a significant amount of time to invest in a single blog post, and that not everyone can spare that much time. But I still think that's not enough time to produce quality output. I've noticed that a good quality post takes me about 6-8 hours to prepare, if I'm writing about something I'm very familiar with (like my own research), and 15-20 hours if I'm writing about something that involves learning some new science. – David Z Feb 14 at 20:12

Let me start with the following disclaimer. Firstly, I'm considering myself also a junior academician (defended my Ph.D. in April 2015; though I have quite a bit of industry experience). Secondly, while I thought about starting professional (in a sense of covering both academia/research and industry, plus various interests) blogging for a while and, even created my own WordPress-powered website with a blog section, I still yet to find time to start and continue blogging regularly. Having said that, everyone's situation and circumstances are different. Also, having some kind of writer's block or, rather, fear, I decided that mostly answering (and sometimes asking) questions on Stack Exchange sites as well as Quora is a gentle way of preparing myself to a more serious :-) blogging exposure.

Now, on to your questions (take my advice with a grain of salt, considering the disclaimer above).

Is academic blogging a good idea?

In my humble opinion, absolutely. I've seen a lot of academic blogs. Most of them are of good to excellent quality. Reading someone's such academic blog immediately adds some virtual respect points to that person's virtual balance in my brain. Sometimes it helps to find answers to my specific questions. Often, it increases my awareness on some topics or subject domains. It also helps me to understand who might be a good potential collaborator for a future research or an advisor for a science-focused venture / startup. All of the above-mentioned points are potential benefits toward a good professional exposure / visibility for an academic blogger.

Does it become too much effort?

As I said, I have no direct experience in blogging, but, based on my experience with answering questions, it depends on your desired involvement. I guess, for blogging it is more about setting a comfortable for the author schedule and sticking to it. Answering questions is a more flexible way.

Is it worthwhile?

See answer to Q1.

How likely is blog-death?

Since one of major, if not the major, benefits of blogging is training one's brain to formulate and express thoughts and arguments, I think that "blog-death" is not only over-rated, but irrelevant. Even if zero people will read your blog now, 1) at some point, some people will start reading it, if it will be worth reading and, more importantly, 2) you will still be self-improving in so many ways.

In general, what are pitfalls to watch out for when starting an academic blog?

IMHO potential factors of success are (obviously, potential pitfalls would be the opposite aspects):

  • finding interesting topics;
  • expressing yourself via original and quality writing;
  • creating a visually appealing blog (likely, not critical, but still...);
  • creating a realistic schedule and sticking to it;
  • having faith in yourself.
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The answers to the first four questions are highly individual (you set the posting frequency, the topics, etc.). Just ensure that you get something out of it, e.g., write down your experiences as a kind of open journal to learn from, or use it to promote your work and the work of people you appreciate. In short, make it useful to you and others.

As for pitfalls, I see one major one in Academia: Given that academia can be stressful at times, it might be tempting to write things you "just want to get out". To publicly bitch about things. This is one instance where a blog might backfire. I think you can say everything as long as you do it with a basic level of respect. If that respect isn't there at the moment (let's face it, sometimes reviewer rejections are hard to stomach and occasionally, people just suck), then don't write about it (at that time).

I'm also not sure about legal issues, e.g., the university might want to prohibit or control what you publish. At least, if they are mentioned by name/affiliation. Personally, I keep my blogs separate from my work, so far without problems, but there are instances in which academics have encountered consequences for their blog postings (usually related to explosive topics and I'm not sure whether administration was just looking for a reason/rationalization).

One last thing regarding the "it might wither and die" concern. Blogs are a great way of thinking about topics and finding one's voice. After all, you write about your thoughts and make those writings public. Many people put in extra effort under these circumstances, and the writing down part might reveal inconsistencies. But it puts an extreme burden on you if you feel you have to carry on the blog until you die. You don't. It's something that seems right at the moment. It can become a success and draw an audience. But it also might be a more private affair. No matter how it turns out (even negatively), you can always look back on it and say: "I used it to think about some topics and it was fun while it lasted, but now I have no further need of it." And that's fine too.

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Good answer (+1). I'd say that, in regard to potential legal issues you mentioned, a typical disclaimer, stating that a blog's content doesn't represent opinion of the employer(s) of blog's owner/author (or authors, if blog is a multi-author one) [or, vice versa, does represent only opinion of the blog author(s)], should be enough to prevent worrying about this aspect. – Aleksandr Blekh Feb 22 at 5:21

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