Alice Dreger is soliciting advice “for a young scholar thinking of starting a blog.” My wife and I have each maintained blogs for several years, and here’s what we’ve come up with.
- Set your goals.
- Keep it fresh
- Put your name on it
- Consider wordpress.com
- Don’t allow anonymous comments
- Compose in Markdown
- Use the <!–more–>– tag
- Archive your work
A blog, like any other enterprise, benefits from a clear mission. Are you trying to draw attention to work you’ve done, or to work you’re doing? To exercise your writing muscles, to track developments in a particular field? One reason our blogs have lasted so long is that they have clear selection criteria. Rebecca blogs about the law of false advertising, and I blog about institutional review board oversight of the social sciences and humanities. Those topics are specific enough that we can keep track of major developments without being overwhelmed, yet broad enough that we have new material most weeks.
I’d say a good scholarly blog needs a posting at least once a month, preferably more. If you can’t manage that alone, consider joining or starting a group blog.
Domain names, especially .com domains, are pretty cheap, and they give you the flexibility to move your blog later. As for the blog title, consider naming it at least partly after yourself. Most citations to the Institutional Review Blog leave out its author. Putting your name in the title of the blog (e.g., “Rebecca Tushnet’s 43(B)log),” gives you some hope of getting cited properly.
I’ve tried three different platforms. I started the Institutional Review Blog on Blogger in the hopes that using a Google product would increase my hits, but I’m frustrated by the lack of features, like the difficulty of posting a PDF. I also tried a WordPress installation on a hosting site, but that got hacked and made me sad. I’ve found wordpress.com (which I use for zacharyschrag.com and HistoryProfessor.Org) to offer the features I need, robust security, and a low price (I pay $13 per year per site for domain mapping).
I’ve had mostly interesting exchanges on my blog with people willing to give their names, and mostly stupid conversations with people too cowardly to do so. At the outset, only post comments that arrive with full names and, if appropriate, affiliations.
A colleague put me onto nvALT, and I’m still lamenting all the tags I wrote by hand before I had it.
If you write anything more than three paragraphs, put a <!–more–> tag after the lede. It will make it easier for people to see your posts, both browsing the blog and searching.
If it’s a scholarly blog, it needs a scholarly home. In 2014, I used BlogBooker to create a 568-page PDF of the first eight years of my blog and posted them to my university’s online repository. So when Blogger and I have both gone the way of Google Reader, it will still be someone’s job to maintain in perpetuity my most ephemeral writings.