Blogging for researchers: an event held in the Research Exchange
On Monday this week I attended an event on Blogging, led by Mark Carrigan who is a Sociology PhD student at Warwick. I was very impressed when I saw the flier advertising it so decided to attend, to get his perspective. I was certainly not the only one interested: there were at least 20 others at the session and there were plenty of questions and interactions.
Mark set up a Wordpress account live, to demonstrate how easy it is to set up a blog, and to show some of the features which make Wordpress a well suited blogging tool for researchers. Of course there are other blog hosting tools available. Like Warwick blogs which I use here, or Blogger which I used in my days as Chair of the UK Council of Research Repositories. I have never used Wordpress myself although I have heard many good things about it from those who do, and having seen it in action I do agree with Mark that it is the tool I would recommend to researchers starting a blog.
My own reason for using Warwick blogs is that I can easily restrict entries to just University of Warwick staff or to staff and students, or indeed to just Library staff or to any particular Web Group. I like this facility and some University of Warwick researchers might like the convenience of these pre-set permissions groups as well.
There is a difference between what you get from Wordpress for free and what you can get if you pay for an account, and this might influence a blogger's choice: if you have money, you can also pay for your own domain name for your blog. Mark showed what could be done for free, and one feature that I like was the assignment of blog entries to categories. I try to do the same thing with this blog in the careful allocation of tags, but I am yet to explore properly how to display the content under those tags on this blog, or elsewhere with RSS feeds.
What categories do so simply in Wordpress is they allow you to present collections of blog postings under set headings/links, so that readers can find not only your most recently created postings, but also past ones of interest to them. Many Wordpress blogs don't appear to the reader like blogs at all, but as websites where each "category" is a page under which there is content. I have blogged here before that there is potential for researchers to use blogging technology to build a simple collaborative website for their project, and this is how it can be done.
Mark spoke about the importance of allocating appropriate tags to Wordpress blog postings as well: these tags appear in the metadata for the entries and will help Google to index your content appropriately. It's handy to separate out tags and categories in the way Wordpress supports because you might allocate a lot more tags than categories.
Mark and researchers in the audience discussed the possibility of sharing contribution permissions and blogging as a collaborative activity. There are many ways a blog could be used by researchers: to engage with the public, to stay in touch with colleagues, or, with contributions from the community you are studying, as your actual source material. We looked at examples of research blogs already out there: I found the Sociological Cinemavery interesting as it offers video clips for sociology tutors to use, and a blog called Inequalities seemed to me to be very close to a postgraduates' journal, with guidelines on how to write "articles/posts".