Thursday, September 3, 2009

Academic Bloggers: How to Present Your Brilliant Ideas?

Location: Real Life Office...Should Be Working in Second Life!

I'm taking a break from slapping up more walls at the House of Usher to consider a reading that I assigned, Dustin M. Wax's short but informative "Nine Signs of an Effective Blog Post." My first-year students are just beginning their first blogs at this blog-client's site.

So many blogs, including this one, contain posts that ramble or do not follow Wax's advice. I began to wonder how Wax's rules might not fully apply to academic bloggers.

My students will be writing, from an academic perspective mostly, about their lives as writers and their use of Web 2.0 technologies and virtual worlds. How do we change Wax's advice under those conditions?

Academics & Blogging

Wax's Point 8 "The post is believable" and Point 9 "The post asks for some action" need a little modification in academic settings.

First, experience has taught me that academics can enjoy the play of language (call it "the sound of their own voices") more than truthfulness.

This does not mean an outright lie (the "Sokal Hoax" excepted). Sometimes the words are more believable or compelling than the truth behind them. This habit leads to larger words, clever and conditional turns of phrase such as "XYZ may be true, yet if ABC were to occur."

As for demanding action, I'm not so sure either, unless "keep reading my blog" counts.

Academic articles usually ask readers to consider an idea in a certain way by presenting the results of research. Now there, I'll grant, is a sort of truth that carries weight in Academia.

Wax claims that "Because you do have an action in mind, even if you’re not making it explicit." Some academic writing merely engages in the play of ideas. Many posts at "In a Strange Land" have followed that philosophy for humorous ends (Pappy Enoch's posts) or for sharing the mere beauty and cultural-insights of a setting in virtual worlds (my road-trip entries).

Like most genres of writing, blogs can take many different forms. For instance, my friend Olivia's "Virtually Olivia" is mostly photographs and very little text, yet it is compelling because she is a very talented photographer.

New Genre, New Rhetoric?

It seems so. Blogs are developing a rhetorical style all their own, and it will branch off into many styles over time. Yet the classical appeals of logos (an appeal to reason) and pathos (an appeal to emotion) remain common tactics.

Famous bloggers employ ethos (an appeal based upon one's reputation) as well. For SL, if Tateru Nino, Vint Falken, or Hamlet Au write it, those who know their work tend to give it more credibility than when the brilliant, if cranky, Prokofy Neva pens a similar claim.

I've noted how when Au makes a mistake, he's quick to correct it and make that note right in the blog post with a thank-you to the reader who spotted the error.

That aspect of the rhetoric of blogging likewise has recently developed; when one's blog is as widely read as New World Notes, ethos can be a dangerous thing. We expect Au, Falken, and Nino to be experts on SL. When they slip up, their large readerships catch on quickly.


Tenchi Morigi said...

Ok time to pack out the discussion bat *G* Anybody that is not sharing my opinion will meet it later on ;)

I am having quite a problem with effective blog posting. Agreed quite some blogs follow professional standards and are even commercial. Blogs like these might be even better if they lived up to these rules but does it really go along with the "true nature" of a blog?

Blogging and efficiancy in my eyes are contradicting each other. A blog (in its purest form) is more a work of art, rather then a journalistic task. Therefore it has to be everything but efficient. In my daily read I follow quite some blogs and none of them is really following those rules and I like them, especially those that manage it to go against those rules and still keep the audience thrilled with their post.
I mean seriously ... how can a blog post about ones last days dinner and the following night out follow a quasi academic in writing? Would someone want to read that? I guess not.

I think that the original intention for the author of the post was aiming at blogs that have a clearly commercial focus. Who else would hunt for trackbacks and high rating at blog aggregators?
Those "blogs" are not blogs in the classical sense in my eyes. They are websites using a blogging engine because they are lazy to code by hand.

A classical blog in my eyes is a private matter of a single person or a small group of people collaborating on a varying range of subjects which might change from time to time. All those topics are from a personal point of view mainly in a non academic way. Academic proof is only used to underline the writers point of view.

At the moment the "blog" focusses on a single subject and fades out the personal side (and an about page does NOT qualify as a personal side ... and site either)it ceases to be a blog and becomes a blog driven website.

Tateru Nino said...

The nine points seem more oriented towards selling something than informing, it's true.

(And yes, I make more than enough mistakes at one time or another :)

I think of myself as a fairly boring writer, mostly writing things that interest my own rather eclectic nature. Statistically, there's got to be some other people who find what I'm writing interesting. Certainly enough readers keep turning up.

I may not really be able to articulate what makes a successful blog post (other than mentioning 'sex' and 'world of warcraft' -- and ideally both) but I've got a pretty good handle on what makes for a successful blog in terms of pageviews:

Don't stop. Don't ever stop.

The odds of someone coming to your blog and reading one or more posts increases with the number of posts and the amount of time they've been there. Over time you get an increasing 'background noise' of people who stumble onto your site through a search result or whatever. Keep writing, and that number keeps going up.

I've probably got a couple hundred per day in background noise. Some of those will come back. Statistically, the majority won't. Not the first time they trip over your blog anyway. By the second, third or fifth time you've been in the results for something they were interested in, though, they'll convert to subscribers, or regular readers.

Oh, wait. Rambling. :)

Iggy O said...

Tateru, you have the ethos as a well known blogger to ramble over here, and ramble when you arrive, as often as you wish.

My students benefit from your statistical work on SL for their projects. I don't see much rambling going on there!