August 12, 2010

Advice for researchers on how to use blogs as a way to find out about research

I've been blogging about how researchers might use a blog as a project website, but there are plenty of other aspects to blogs! The RIN report at: http://www.rin.ac.uk/our-work/communicating-and-disseminating-research/use-and-relevance-web-20-researchersindicates that 12% of their survey's respondents write blogs at least occasionally, and 21% comment on blogs.

If researchers are blogging and engaging with each other on blogs then there is material of potential value out there for other researchers to find and use. What advice should librarians offer to researchers about how to use blogs?

FINDING BLOGS OF INTEREST/VALUE

  1. An ordinary Google search will sometimes turn up blog entries in the results.
  2. You can search for blogs on Google Blogs: see their advanced search form for ways of specifying blogs of interest to you. Technorati is another popular blog search engine: http://technorati.com/, and Bloglines works as both a blog search engine and a feed reader: it will make recommendations of similar blogs to those you've already chosen (see below for information about handling blogs and feed readers).
  3. If you've put together a targetted Google search, you can also set up a Google Alert so that you get regular e-mails of new material meeting your search criteria.
  4. Once you've found one blog of interest, look on that blog for links to other blogs that they have found (sometimes called a "blogroll").
  5. If you blog yourself and people comment there, you may find that they also have blogs.

FOLLOWING AND READING BLOGS

If you only want to follow one or two blogs, look out for the option to subscribe via your e-mail address, so that you can read their content amongst your e-mail. If the blog you are interested in doesn't offer this, you could always leave a comment asking whether they could set it up for you. Many blog authors love to hear from their readers.

As you find more blogs of interest to you, you may need a way of collecting at least some of them so that you can read their entries when and how it suits you, rather than having them pop up amongst an already busy e-mail account. An efficient way to do this is to use an RSS feed reader, which is a tool that will aggregate the entries from the blogs you've found (amongst other types of content) and present them to you in a customisable way.

RSS feeds are a mechanism by which content is pushed into another environment than that in which it was originally published. Any blog that uses blogging software will have an RSS feed. Note that your RSS feed reader can also be useful for keeping up to date with other kinds of published content such as podcasts and journal or search alerts, and not only blogs: some will even work with e-mail accounts, so that you can choose to view your e-mail in your RSS feed reader!  

When you collect RSS feeds, you might feel that you're giving yourself more work to do. Following all these blogs could be a whole lot of work, but you don't need to treat it that way. Just because you know a new posting has been made to a blog of interest to you, you don't have to read it... after all, you don't read every page of a journal. 

The two feed readers I hear about most often are Google Reader and Bloglines but there are plenty of others. When choosing a feed reader, look out for features that help you to organise the feeds in ways that suit your needs. You can try one feed reader out and then export the feeds to import into a new feed reader, if you want to explore more.

We have a video describing more about RSS feeds at: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/services/library/main/help/training/rss/

TIME-SAVING TIPS FOR FOLLOWING RESEARCH BLOGS

If there is a blog of crucial relevance to your work and you check your e-mail regularly but you're never going to check your feed reader more than once a month then combining a subscription to the crucial blog in your e-mail whilst watching other sources in your feed reader would be a good approach.

Quickly unsubscribe to any feed that appears less relevant than you thought or produces more content than you could ever follow. Consider adding the URL of the blog to your favourites, and you could go and search that blog for content on a specific topic when you need to know about their work.

You can install a "notifier" on your desktop, so that your feed reader can tell you when there is new content waiting for you to read.

Get your RSS feeds on your phone or on an iGoogle page or in any other environment that you like to use already.

If you maintain your own blog, you can look for functions in your feed reader to to publish your blogroll from there.

See a librarian about ways to optimise your alert notifications and RSS feed subscriptions to suit your own working style!


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