Tips to get you thinking about the role of audience when writing for a blog
Cross-posted on the Inside Teaching MSU Blog, this post (and the others in this “Blogging Tips” series) represents not only a newly-established relationship between the Hub and Inside Teaching at Michigan State University, but also a shared commitment to the development of communities and scholars dedicated to innovation and excellence in academia. Inside Teaching MSU is a network and resource primarily for graduate students at MSU. That said, we hope the relationship between Inside Teaching MSU and the Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology, marked by the cross-posting of this blog series, demonstrates this shared commitment and relevance to all academics, not just graduate students. In this blog series, we present an approach to blogging which began with Inside Teaching and is now shared by the Hub. As we suggest below, the prompting questions and tips that we provide are relevant to a broad audience (whether that be graduate students, undergraduate students, specialists, fix-term or tenured faculty, or staff). We refer generally to “academics” and “scholars” below to reflect this.
In the first post of our three-part “Blogging Tips” series, we began to question the role of authorship as it relates to blogging and the blog-writing experience. We embedded our discussion in a larger conversation about public online scholarship. To Michigan State University leaders like Christopher P. Long, Dean of the College of Arts and Letters, public online scholarship is part of how we work to “make knowledge public.” As he states, “As scholars, we want our research to be read, we want our ideas to have an impact on the wider world. As we think about how to build community around the work we’re doing, it’s important for us to be intentional about the presence that we have online.” With respect to blogs specifically and how they relate to a digital presence, Dean Long shares the following reflection from his own experiences: “I have a WordPress blog and that really is the hub of my academic life” (Long, 2016).
To meet the needs of an ever-changing and digitally-demanding academic world, educators, scholars, and leaders at Michigan State have picked up the conversation. For example, the Online Presence and Public Scholarship Working Group at Michigan State University seeks to understand the role of having a public online scholarly presence and build “communities of practice that integrate across related disciplinary clusters in novel ways” (Wolf, 2016). One important aspect of digital scholarship that they will no doubt need to consider in their conversations is audience.
So how can thinking about audience in relation to your blog or an individual post help you as you consider and develop your own online presence? In this blog post, we begin to explore this by asking the following questions: Who is your audience? What are you hoping to achieve with them? and How will you do it?
Who is your audience?
To start, a careful consideration of who exactly your audience is or who you want it to be can help you as you develop an individual blog post, the blog it is embedded in, and your digital presence more generally. For example, it can help you reach out to and connect with communities and networks that you were not previously a part of, knowledgeable about, or in conversations with. It can also help you think carefully about how you craft your digital presence through your blog in reminding you that once it is made public, it is and will be received. As such, it has the potential to reach and impact various spaces (some which you might not even be thinking about as you plan or write). Your blog has the potential to contribute to larger community engagement endeavors. So who is a part of that community or the communities that you want to impact? Thinking about who might be interested in your work or scholarship is also important for broader issues of readership.
Consider, for example, the following:
- Who reads this type of post or the blog where I plan to publish it?
- Who might be interested in the disciplinary-specific work I do?
- Who does not engage in this work and scholarship regularly who I want to invite in?
- Do I want to engage with a specific audience or a more general audience?
Spending some time with these questions will begin to reveal how important determining audience (whether that be past, current, or future) is for planning and achieving want you want to accomplish with your audience. For instance, when we (Inside Teaching) began this piece, we acknowledged that our primary audience consists of academics and scholars. Our network, though growing, is still founded and mainly supported by educators, researchers, and students. As such, we intentionally chose to frame our title such that our audience was clear: “Blogging Tips for Academics.” That said, we also recognize that not all academics and scholars read our blog. Additionally, we have to wrestle with the fact that not all academics and scholars blog or even think about their digital presence or public scholarship. As a result of this understanding, we were careful to make intentional choices about how we approached the writing and structure of this blog post.
What are you hoping to achieve with them?
Whenever you write a blog post, you should be asking yourself To what end? What is my overall goal or purpose? What am I hoping to achieve with this post? That said, once you make your work public and share it in online spaces, you are inviting others to engage with that work and scholarship. So it is important to consider what the goals of that engagement are. You must begin to move beyond just thinking about what you are hoping to achieve to thinking about goals you have in mind for you and your audience. As you begin to understand what this might mean for you, we suggest you work through the following questions as a starting point:
- To whose benefit does your blog serve?
- Is your aim to share helpful strategies or resources with your audience?
- Are you hoping your blog becomes a space for you to think through your intellectual work or scholarship with them?
- Are you looking for feedback?
- Is your goal to prompt a conversation?
As mentioned above, your post and the blog more broadly will live on after it is published. As such, we also encourage you to think ahead into the unpredictable future:
- How could your post or blog be picked up going forward?
- What is the post’s purpose beyond you and beyond today (or what could it be)?
- Is your blog making space for growth, progress, and innovation?
- Crucially, is it positioned to do this with others?
When we thought about what we hoped to achieve with our audience, we realized that our goal for this post (and the larger series it is a part of) is to start a conversation and to share an approach, opening up our audiences to the possibility of multiple models for blogging. We want this blog to serve as a starting point and can see it being useful to a broad audience and also picked up in and across various spaces. Additionally, we know that it is relevant to broader conversations around online public scholarship and digital presence and we want this relevance to be known. These explicit goals required us to think carefully about what moves we did or did not need to make to accomplish them.
How will you do it?
In addition to thinking about your audience and what you hope to accomplish with them, it is also necessary to think about how you will accomplish everything you hope to in your blog and in individual posts. Though we mentioned style and tone in the first part of this series, we return to them here:
- How can you frame your post so that it is clearly for your intended audience?
- What will your audience be expecting in terms of structure, formatting, framing, positioning, length, content, resources, style, tone, etc?
- Additionally, how might your own linguistic style play a role in writing to and engaging with your audience?
- How will you, if this is a goal of yours, retain your authenticity and meet the needs of authorship your blog post demands, while still keeping it open to a broad audience?
In writing this post, these questions helped us structure our own process and consider the moves we would need to make to accomplish our goals. For example, we made our audience clear throughout the piece via references to scholars, academics, educators, students, and so forth. We were intentional in using a variety of terms across the post to refer to our audience, including phrases like “broad audience.” Additionally, we repeat throughout the piece that we see this as a starting point. In fact, the entire series is framed around questions, reaffirming that we are not providing an answer or a single model, but simply working to get our audience thinking about these questions, why they might matter, and how they dynamically change across contexts. Lastly, because we wanted this post to stand alone while still marking it as a series, we made a point to include an introduction to the idea of digital presence and to center it around that conversation (something we began the first post in the series with, as well).
Our process was cyclical. We moved from question to question, recognizing that as we began to answer the very questions we posed, we had to reframe certain parts and recontextualize or restructure others. Will our strategy work? Well, that will depend on how successfully we connected and communicated with our current and potential audiences. It will also depend on our promotion strategies, something that we will explore in the final post in this series.
Again, there is no single model for blogging or crafting an online presence. The choices you make will necessarily need to change depending on a variety of factors, including your overall purpose, the historical context in which you are writing, your current position, etc. We hope that this post serves as a conversation starter, however, and helps you begin to think (or rethink) specifically about the role audience plays. We also hope that being transparent and public about our own process leads to a better understanding of how you might approach a consideration of audience.
We welcome any questions you have and stories or examples you are willing to share as you engage with either this post or the blogging experience in general. You can find us on Twitter (@InsideTeaching) or Facebook (Inside Teaching MSU). In the final part of this three part series, we discuss why it is important to think about the post itself when you blog.
Long, C.P. (2016, September 30). Bringing Your CV to Life. Retrieved from http://cplong.org/2016/09/bringing-your-cv-to-life/.
Wolf, L.G. (2016, October 7). Week 1 Reflection: Online Presence and Public Scholarship Working Group. Retrieved from http://www.leighgraveswolf.com/2016/10/07/week-1-reflection-online-presence-and-public-scholarship-working-group/.
Inside Teaching MSU (@InsideTeaching) is a network and resource for MSU Graduate Students and Postdocs, dedicated to promoting teaching excellence through conversation and sharing practices. Inside Teaching MSU is about interconnection, about finding opportunities to decentralize conversations about teaching, and about taking advantage of the expertise of our community of Graduate Students and Postdocs. [/cmsms_featured_block][/cmsms_column][/cmsms_row]