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7 Reasons academics should blog

Blogging can be an effective tool for promoting your academic works and establishing yourself as a voice of influence within your academic discipline, said Kevin Patton, author of several anatomy and physiology textbooks including the 2016 Textbook Excellence Award-winning Anatomy & Physiology 9e.

“A blog provides a virtual ‘home base’ to share information about your writing, teaching, and academic interests,” he said. “It provides you an effective outreach tool to network with your peers and students, and allows you to tailor your messages to the specific audience you wish to reach.”

During his 2016 TAA Conference session, “Blogging to Promote Your Academic Works: Where Do I Start?”, Patton, who publishes several blogs related to teaching and writing, shared the following seven reasons academics should blog:

1 – To promote specific published works. He created a blog for each of his titles as a way to promote them and to stay in contact with his audience (see links to all of his blogs at the end of this post). The blogs help him explain his textbooks’ rationale, he said: ‘”Well, why did I do it this way that’s different than you see in other similar books? Why did I make this choice? Why did I add this feature? What is the learning theory behind this pedagogical feature? I didn’t just add it because we wanted something new, simply to say that we have a new edition and new content and so on.”

2 – To establish yourself as a voice of influence. Patton started his first blog, The A&P Professor for this purpose. To have people say, “Oh, he’s the guy that blogs on this.” “I didn’t want to specifically promote my textbooks,” he said. “Instead I wanted to engage people using other textbooks so they would get to know me and feel like they have a relationship with me and so that I can establish my voice: ‘Well, here’s where I’m coming from as an anatomy and physiology professor.’” He posts tips for teaching anatomy and physiology and updates on content. “Because as textbook and academic authors we’re staying current in our particular field, much more so than if we’re teaching and not doing the authoring part of it,” he said. “And so sometimes I will hear about breakthroughs in a certain area before some of the teaching colleagues do only because they aren’t working as hard at that part of it as I am. So I can share that: ‘Well, guess what I just learned? Guess what just came out in Nature or Science, that really has something to do with the way we teach human anatomy and physiology?’”

He also wanted to establish himself as the “A&P teaching guy” and “an expert in A&P teaching”: “I wanted to be one of the many voices in that area. I’ve established myself as a voice and I do that in other ways too, such as going to the discipline conferences and talking to other people, etc., but there’s a much, much larger audience of people that don’t go to those conferences or don’t run into you at those conferences and cross the same paths.”

3 – To reach out to students. He started The A&P Student blog to provide study tips and specific explanations of concepts that are hard to grasp. “It’s also a great way to connect with my colleagues’ students,” he said.

4 – To establish and maintain your academic brand. If you’re a scholar, where have you made your mark? Where do you intend to make your mark? What image do you want to portray to your colleagues, to granting agencies, to other institutions that you might end up collaborating with, or even working at, at some point? “I can establish and maintain my brand through a blog and make choices about how people are seeing me,” he said. “Because I’m going to be projecting ‘this’, and not ‘that’, I can decide what I want to project, and the kind of impression that I want to make on people. And that’s what ‘brand’ literally means, right? An impression.”

5 – To maintain contact with your audience. Patton said he has been surprised by how well a blog has helped him maintain contact with his audience: “There are a lot of people who email me individually and say ‘I just read your blog.’ Or, I’ll be at a meeting and someone will say, ‘Oh man, that blog post from last week really hit me where I was right then and I’m so glad you shared that because you solved that problem’, or ‘I never thought of it that way–that made me think of yet another way.’ And then I write that down and put it my blog a month or so later. So there’s a tip for how to get content – collaborate with your colleagues by sharing their ideas, as well, or maybe your own twist on their ideas.”

Many blogs have the ability for readers to share comments, but Patton recommends that if you include a comment ability on your blog, you want to be sure that it’s moderated so you can see them first and decide whether to post them or not. “I’m somewhat relieved when I don’t get comments because a lot of comments (made in social media) are people just being hateful,” he said.

6 – To test ideas. If there’s a particular research interest of yours that you want to blog about and you have an idea for a direction for research, you might want to throw out some of those things and get feedback that will help you focus before you go any further, he said. “With textbook blogging, I might put out there that ‘Hey, I just learned this new idea about how students learn the content, and I’m thinking of ways to incorporate that in my textbook. Have you had any experience with your teaching materials?’ Or ‘Here’s what I’m thinking of. Can I get some feedback on it?’ Or, ‘This is coming up in the next edition and here’s why it is coming up in the next edition.’”

7- To practice your writing. “One of the best ways to get better at writing is to write, write, write,” he said. “So if you’re writing a blog, that’s practicing your writing. It’s like doing your exercises every day.”

Kevin Patton’s blogs:

The A&P Professor | The A&P Student | | Anatomy & Physiology | Structure & Function of the Body | o-log-y | The Electronic Professor | Lion Tamers Guide to Teaching

Other TAA resources on social media for academics:

Presentations on demand (including 3 video tutorials on how to create a blog using WordPress)

Free download – Social Media 101: Tips for Academic Writers