Academic Blogging Workshop

This workshop is a short hands on event designed to help you get started with your blogging life! The process of developing a blog can take up a lot of time (and  money if not careful!) The goal here is to get you started by understanding the blog platform options, the process for setting up and maintaining the blog, and then how to plan writing and promotion of your work. This workshop is focused on WordPress as the main platform – there are alternatives and we will mention them. But the flexibility and robust features of WordPress are what we have chosen to start with. Before the workshop there is some homework for you to help prepare. This page provides some background and the things to consider before we meet.

What is this Blogging Business About?

Blogging is self publication of usually short pieces of writing. Originally, blogging was just a single column listing of posts. Really, just a series of manually updated HTML code with new text posts inserted. (For a broader history, head here.) The attraction of this is you can publish text, images, media, really anything. The challenge is how much work it takes to update the blog! In the older model you had to update code and upload it, often with coding of the text to get the layout right.

So Meta....

So Meta….

Now we have a number of tools that provide a simple graphical user interface that look just like a word processor. These allow for updates to be quick, painless, and convenient. There are also now more powerful systems that allow multiple users to collaborate on the same site, or even head towards a more involved media website with periodic posts or featured items. WordPress in particular includes many third party plugins to add data visualization, user interaction, and even e-commerce.

Ok, so now its easier to do it. Why do it?

Its a great procrastination tool for graduate students. Its a great tool to share ideas and practice writing. There is some debate here about how useful it is. But you can certainly share information to try and build a community of scholars or thinkers you want to engage in. In particular, with commenting systems you can post an essay and facilitate a robust discussion online. These comments are usually better than the comments sections you find on newspaper or large media sites (depending on the company you keep.)

It is worth noting that you should probably be careful about ideas you chose to share on the blog. I tend to try and use it to promote other projects I have out there, or to share current event type writing. My more central research writing I prefer to save for publication first, and then shorten for sharing in blogging. There might be some paranoia here – but our thinking and research are our primary intellectual merits, so make sure they get the best traction for you before someone else can!

Sounds fun, how do I do it?

Assuming you are still reading, I will also assume you like this idea! So how to get setup. As I mentioned, there are a number of platforms out there but this workshop focuses on WordPress. Other tools out there include Medium (an offshoot of Twitter), Blogger (a Google product, supported by your PSU account too), or other more creative media like Tumblr.

WordPress includes a huge community of users and you can really own your blog. Unlike other options that host your content, but restrict your design choices, WordPress lets you go wild – if you want to. WordPress provides a guide for getting started, and we will use this as a reference. But I will help make some of the choices up front a little more clear.

There are some questions I want you to consider:

  • Do you want to invest a fair bit of time in this? Will you do it for a longer period of time (after school)?
  • Do you want to have your own domain, like PaulRocks.com? Or could you care less about the name?
  • Do you want to host your own site on a server either you own or rent? Do these words make sense to you?

Regardless of the answers – we can help you. For those that answer yes to wanting a domain and to host it – we can help with the choices here.

At a bare minimum, everyone participating in the course should go to WordPress and start and account. Do that by clicking here. The limit here is that you won’t have full access to plugins and themes. This limits how you can customize or personalize the site.

WordPress will try to get you going right away from that link. As you can see they will help you buy a domain and even host it for you. If you want to dive in and do that – feel free! Or go with the free option.

Alternatively, you can setup your own domain, often its a cheaper option (namecheap.com is my favorite).

To host your own site and make your own custom install, you need to pay for space on a server. There are many options and prices range from a few dollars a month to $20. PC Magazine recently reviewed a number of them and compared them.

Have Shiny Blog, Will Travel

Ok, once you are up and running its time to write! We can discuss this in the workshop. But one of the best ways to write well is read more. Find some blogs you like and see how they do it. Once you have a WordPress account you can browse the many sites that use their platform. Some basic tips: keep it shorter (I try for 1000-1500 words). Add images, maps or figures – they break up the tendency for sleep inducing text events. Keep it current and try to post regularly.

Some blog examples:

http://tressiemc.com/

http://blog.castac.org/

http://www.kevintbaker.com/

http://blogs.oregonstate.edu/seagrantscholars/

http://fivethirtyeight.com/

http://lucybellwood.com/

Go to the next level!

Once you get into this you will discover you can tinker endlessly. Themes come from all over and there are some amazing ones out there for free. Or you can pay for a developer to help you out with a theme or even a graphic design to give you that special something.

Plugins are endless – there are mapping tools, data tools, integration with social media, and on and on. We can explore some of these when we meet too.

Some Brief Aphorisms on Blogging We’ll Discuss

  • Promote you writing. Don’t write to promote.
  • Know your audience and meet them where they are.
  • Imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery.

See you February 9, 2016 – over in MCB 123.

If you have questions, ideas or comments – share them below!

 

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