Introduction

This toolkit provides general guidance to good practice in blogging. It also offers specific advice for staff members and research students who want to set up and maintain blogs directly related to their research at the University of Glasgow.

Please note that from the 1st June 2016 we will no longer be setting up Wordpress blogs on academicblogs.co.uk. All existing sites will continue to receive support. We will continue to promote all active research-related blogs, and we will provide communications advice to anyone interested in setting up a new research-related blog.

We have set-up a closed group on the University's Yammer site to help share best practice, deal with questions and establish a community for those actively blogging. You can sign-up and request to join the group (UofG Academic & Blogging Community) at  https://www.yammer.com/glasgow.ac.uk.

For more information about blogging and setting up a WordPress blog, please read through the sections below.

What is a blog?

A blog is a site that consists of posts, typically displayed in reverse chronological order. Blogs can be the work of a single individual or multi-author.

  • Blogs should be updated regularly (at least once a fortnight)
  • Blog content is easy to share via social media and email
  • Posts may also contain video and images
  • Twitter feeds may be included. As can links to other social media platforms
  • People can comment on posts, but may also discuss posts on separate platforms such as Twitter and Facebook

Blogs should not be set-up as an alternative to the main www.glasgow.ac.uk website, and wordpress should not to be used to create stand-alone websites for groups or centres. The following content types are not appropriate on a blog:

  • Staff profiles—staff should always link to their official staff profile, though a brief bio may be acceptable for PhD students
  • Course information—this should always be a link to the main University website
  • Lots of static pages about a group or centre

If you are looking for a blog for a multi-institutional project, please contact Laura Tyler to discuss.


What should you blog about?

It is important to consider what you can and cannot blog about. You shouldn’t post any commercially confidential information. This may include any indications of forthcoming developments or bids, the publishing of code, information about colleagues or personnel matters, unresolved grievances, non-public or not-yet-approved documents or minutes, news or information. If you are in any doubt about whether it is appropriate to blog about something please speak to your line manager for clarification.

Thematic approaches to an academic blog:

  • The service: offers expert opinion, ideas and analysis as part of a social good. Applies a collective expertise to de-bunk myths, clarify complex issues along a particular theme, amaze and inspire. 

  • The thought-leader: uses a blog as the hub or community space to curate thought-leadership in a given topic, drawing upon events, wider community and guest-posters from other institutions to contribute.

  • The activity diary: Typically provides a platform to make visible the activities of a research group or unit, showcasing the wider activities that researchers engage with. It may include perspectives on engaging with community participation in research, the successes and failures in field trips, public engagement events, student experiences. All areas that you may never get to describe in academic publication. 

Ideas for content:

  • Updates on your research
    - This could be an opportunity to break down a research article to a wider public (or interdisciplinary) audience
    - To talk about the vision and context for ongoing research
    - A fieldtrip, or stories from field research
  • Perspectives on topical events where you have expertise
  • Engaging reports about events you are/have been involved with
  • Reports (i.e. take home messages or synthesis) on conferences or seminars that you have attended

Ask yourself whether you want to inform, advocate, share enthusiasm, ask your readers questions.

Things to consider

  • Do you have a plan to sustain content, or do you just have several posts in mind? Do you really need a blog, or could you offer them as guest-posts to other large blogs in your field, perhaps associated with learned or professional societies, journals, NGOs or arts councils. Think about the channels you consume for information. Always try to pitch your work where it will receive the largest existing audience—but don't dismiss the opportunity to grow your own!

  • Think about what you plan to post and how frequently you can do this. A blog with just a few posts that are out of date gives a negative impression of your research, campus life and the University.

  • To sustain content and grow followers it is better to bring several authors together, either by research project/theme (e.g. End of Life Studies) or research unit (e.g. MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research). You can speak to us about how to organise your blogging schedule, or what a blogging team might look like.

How often should you update your blog?

It is important to try to publish regularly and relevantly (at least once a fortnight but ideally more frequently). However, quality is more important than quantity, and using multiple channels to promote a new post can overcome irregular blog posts. That said, a blog with just a few posts that are out of date gives a negative impression of your research, campus life and the University—so have a plan to keep it alive.

You should think about the length, presentation and quality (of content, writing and spelling) of your posts. By setting up a social media presence you are committing to update it. If a social media presence, particularly a blog, is not being kept up to date then the best course of action may be to formally cease updating it. In this scenario, post a final comment that indicates the blog will no longer be updated, take a copy of your posts for archiving and, in some cases, subsequently remove it.


Writing for your blog I: things to consider

  • Stay relevant and interesting to the expected audience – You may find over time that the audience you reach becomes quite identifiable and specialist which will make it easier to judge the type of topics of interest.
  • Decide on your tone of voice and relationship to the audience – Are you official, semi-official or personal?
  • Blog as a team – Think about having more than one blogger/contributor to share the burden of posting/updating.
  • Be respectful to all parties – Consider good netiquette and professional appropriateness (e.g. no aggressiveness, rudeness, politics).
  • Engage with stakeholders and link or refer to others’ content when relevant – Always ensure all links, images, slides etc. are appropriately credited (and linked to where possible), and that the content involved is responsibly created in as much as it is reasonable to check (e.g. not the result of copying, piracy, etc.). This both means ensuring your own postings do not breach rights/copyright and do not link to any dubious (pirated, copied, unlicensed) materials, but also ensuring that images are cleared for use (or are Creative Commons licensed and appropriately credited). Find additional information in the tab 'Copyright & sharing'.
  • Don’t publish anything which may be commercially sensitive – e.g. minutes that have not been agreed, potential partnerships, bids in progress, funding situations. If an item/area/announcement is already public it is probably ok to discuss it, but seek advice from your line manager or supervisor where the publication status or commercial confidentiality is unclear.
  • Protect your intellectual property and that of your collaborators – Ensure you do not disclose proprietary information about your research or that of a third party without their permission. If in doubt speak to your College Business Development Manager, the University's contracts team or the University IP Manager.

Writing for your blog II: practical tips

Remember that writing for a blog is different from traditional academic writing.

  • You are writing for a wider audience, so avoid discipline-specific jargon
  • Your posts should be concise—you have 600-800 words, so get to the point and stay there
  • Your main arguments should be at the top of the post, not the bottom
  • A post should deliver one main message (though it can have multiple strands—remember to tie them up). Anything more, and it's a manuscript. 
  • Use short sentences
  • Keep paragraphs short, each one to introduce a new thought or development
  • Use sub-headings to help structure content
  • Always have someone else critically read your post before publishing

You are also writing for the web, not print. This requires a different approach. See our Web Content Checklist (PDF) for a quick guide to the do’s and don’ts of writing for the web.

Two of the most important elements to attract to your blog, and keep them there, are a strong headline and a hook.

Headline

Use a narrative title that describes the content, rather that a cryptic headline that reveals nothing.

The hook (also known as a lead/lede, lure or trailer)

Lead with three or four lines on why the story is interesting. You don’t need to reveal everything, but you do need to encourage readers, e.g. begin with startling fact or an impactful statistic, a paradox resolved, a great anecdote or something that challenges existing belief.

Narrative

Identify who is doing what, and for good measure why, when and where they are doing it. Don’t be afraid to say ‘I’ - take ownership of work you have done.


Copyright and sharing

Plagiarism, intellectual property and copyright

Blogs are an excellent opportunity to share expert opinion and synthesis. However, despite the more conversational nature of scholarship inherent in blogging, you still need to employ best practices of integrity and be aware of plagiarism and copyright infringement. This includes ensuring that you attribute other people's work (quoted or paraphrased) within your posts, and those of contributing authors (if you administer a group blog).

It also means deciding whether (and how) you will allow others to use your own work.

For reference, review:

Self-plagiarism is perhaps the more common form of 'accidental' plagiarism in blogging. This might include re-posting, without attribution, the material you have previously posted or submitted elsewhere before. Or indeed, taking content from a blog post, you have written and used it verbatim in subsequent academic work without attributing to its origin. It's a contentious topic and one that is very much dependent on how your text was previously used, how you are re-using it, your intent and the audience's expectation. Your integrity is questioned by breaking the reader's trust—presenting, as new, ideas and text that have previously been published elsewhere. This is particularly true where the reader expects that they are reading novel material. The most famous example is in the science journalist Jonah Lehrer—discussed in a useful article on the website Plagiarism Today. The upshot is not to avoid writing anything that you might want to use again, but to be open about the source of all your materials, mainly when used in academic work.

Post-publication editing. As with any other published work, you should not return to make post-publication edits that change a statement in such a way that the intended meaning is changed. Minor edits to address typos or grammatical errors are ok, but should be addressed before publication. For any other changes (substantive changes such as to names, references, meanings, facts/figures, deletions of content, missing attribution), add a footnote to say what was changed, when and why.

How others use your work. In blogging, there is a culture of sharing, including re-posting your work or that of others (all with attribution). Generally, there is a more lax attitude towards such sharing for non-commercial or educational uses, but it should not be assumed. Always check whether the content creator has provided a Creative Commons Licence (see below) that stipulates how the work may be used. In general, you will always need to attribute, and it is good etiquette to not share the whole post, but rather a lead segment of it—then link back to the original blog. However, there are allowances for 'fair use' of other images and text when it is the focus of critical discussion. See 'Fair use' below.

So how do you attribute content, without returning a blog post to a formal academic document peppered with citations and footnotes? HubSpot wrote a useful post on 'How to cite sources & not steal people's content on the internet', which gives an up to date (and engaging) approach to this. 

Your copyright: allowing people to use your work:

In the spirit of open access, several of our blogs allow the sharing of contributing author work under certain conditions, using Creative Commons licences. In most cases, the licences used are:

Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0) – this allows others to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format; and to adapt, remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially.

or

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) – this allows others to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format; and to adapt, remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, but not for commercial purposes.

You can require that all authors sign up to the licence you choose for the blog, or opt to licence each post individually. To help you decide on an appropriate Creative Commons licence, you can work through the Creative Commons questionnaire, or use this more detailed visual CC licensing flowchart (PDF).

Third-party copyright

Do not use material (text, images, videos, sound) that does not belong to you unless you have permission, and it is correctly attributed. Whether you can use an image without permission depends on how you intend to use it. If the image forms the basis of a critical appraisal or discussion, read about fair use below.

In most cases, particularly where you are just using pretty images to illustrate a post, you need permission from the image creator. Just providing attribution does not absolve you of this (this just addresses plagiarism, rather than the rights of the creator).

The most useful source of third-party media to illustrate your posts can be found on WikiMedia Commons.

To attribute media correctly, visit the media page of the image you have selected and to the right of the image, select 'Use this image on the web'. The required attribution will be detailed.

Alternatively, Flickr has images that may be available to use. Because it's not always clear how or whether you can use the image legally, a useful tool is available, just drag the bookmarklet tool to your browser, navigate to the Flickr page of the image you'd like to use and use the bookmarklet to identify permissions/create an attribution code (Hat-tip to the Glasgow TELT blog for describing the tool availability).

Fair use

Your content in a research blog may well involve criticism, elements of teaching, critical appraisal and commentary. If the subject of these is an image or artwork, you may have a right to fair use of the image, regardless of the copyright. In the article 'Copyright Fair Use and How it Works for Online Images' the author lists five things to think about before using copyrighted images to ensure you are using them under a fair use policy. Read additional discussion on negotiating the fair use doctrine.


Promoting your blog

How will you promote your blog? Blogs need to be promoted like any other website. Fortunately there are a number of passive and active features that can help.

  • When writing posts, ensure you make use of 'tags'—keywords that people could use to find your posts through organic searches.
  • Your blog posts are very shareable via other social media. A panel of social media sharing icons should be visible on each post for visitors to easily share.

Most of the traffic to our blogs is referred via Twitter and Facebook platforms, therefore

  • Use local social media to promote your blog (any personal or centre/network/school/institute social media that may exist) — find out if your research unit has Twitter or Facebook
  • Ensure you send out an internal email within your unit, highlighting your latest blog post and encouraging others to share with anyone who may be interested. Also take this opportunity to invite staff or students related to your research area to write for your blog
  • Include the blog address in general internal communications/newsletters within your school/institute
  • Add your blog address to your email address signature, together with your staff profile address
  • Integrate the blog feed into a relevant section of your school/institute website (e.g. School of Law)—speak to your local principal web publisher to discuss.

Moderating comments

Once your site has been set-up you can decide if would like to give users the opportunity to comment on your blogs. If you decide to allow comments then you should be prepared for negative feedback/comments on your blog.

It is important not to censor/delete comments unless the comments are defamatory or obscene in nature.

It is best to acknowledge negative feedback and provide a helpful, positive response. We would advise against contacting individuals directly. If appropriate you could suggest that they contact the University in a more formal manner (email or phone) to discuss the matter further.


Technical guidance for Wordpress blogs

Technical guidance for Wordpress blogs

There is general guidance on the Wordpress site: http://codex.wordpress.org/Main_Page

If you would like to use the University of Glasgow Wordpress theme then please contact Laura Tyler for the relevant files which can be uploaded to your Wordpress site for use.

Often short video intros are more useful:


Further reading

General blogging guides