Last week the SIOP Electronic Communication Committee posted my interview with Beth Melillo about my blogging journey. We began with how I created a website in the early 90s to post course content and how it evolved to host other content and eventually my blog. The original site was almost entirely text, programmed in HTML; whereas I used WordPress to create paulspector.com that has lots of pictures and video clips as well as the blog. One thing we only touched upon was writing for a general blog audience.
Targeting Your Audience
Any time you write, you should have your audience in mind. Are you writing for experts in your field, students in an undergraduate class, or a more general audience? A large part of graduate training, especially in PhD programs, is how to communicate and write for people in your discipline. You learn the jargon and how to use it to craft arguments. In scientific fields there are specific ways that academic papers are structured and written, which can vary by field and even the specific journals within fields. Such writing is highly technical as it is written for experts who are familiar with the content and methods in the paper. Relatively little time, often none at all, is spent on how to write for more a general audience.
Writing for a General Blog Audience
When you begin blogging, you need to decide who your audience will be. Are you writing for academics, professionals in your field, or a more general audience? My goal is to write in a style that is accessible to a broad audience that includes professionals and students both within my discipline and outside of it. When I blog about a recent research study, for example, I typically focus on 2-3 key findings and only present results of simple analyses—comparison of means or correlations. You won’t find me trying to present the results of complex statistical modeling. There is nothing wrong with doing that if your target audience consists of experts in the field who are knowledgeable about the methodology, but you will lose the more general audience.
There are a few things to keep in mind as you write.
- Avoid Jargon. The foundation for any academic field is the relevant concepts and factors with which it deals. My field of IO psychology and management focuses on concepts concerning people at work. There are hundreds of terms that reflect aspects of employee attitudes, behavior, health, job performance, personality, and more. In the glossary of my IO psychology textbook, I list definitions for nearly 400 terms, and those are just a sample of all the terms in the field. My experience teaching classes to nonpsychologists is that those terms can be difficult to understand as our definitions tend to be abstract, defining one term by using other terms. I do my best to use simple language and avoid jargon as much as possible.
- Bullet Points Are Easier to Digest Than Straight Text. Early on I read some guides about blogging that noted the importance of bullet points because they make it easier for your reader. You will find them in all my blogs. I realized after I began blogging that these were a very useful device when you have several related points. I have since incorporated them into my books and even academic papers.
- More Is Less. The purpose of a blog article is to provide a simple message that can be read in no more than five minutes. This means focusing on a main message and avoiding tangents and extraneous details. This can be difficult if you were trained to include all relevant details in an academic paper. When I write about a published study, I provide a link to that study either on the publisher’s website or ResearchGate where full details can be found. Yes, I often oversimplify complex findings; my goal is to provide the reader with an accessible taste. Those wanting more can read the full paper that I link to.
- Pay Attention to SEO. If you are blogging, presumably you want to maximize the size of your audience. Many people will find blog articles with search engines, most likely Google. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) refers to features that you can incorporate into your blog to increase the likelihood that it will be found in a search. This includes things like the use of keywords and including links within your article. If you are serious about blogging, it is worth spending some time learning SEO basics.
For academics and practitioners alike, blogging can be a valuable tool for building your personal brand and promoting your work. For academics that means getting people to pay attention to your research; for practitioners it can help drive business. No matter what your goal, keep in mind that writing for a general blog audience can require the honing of new skills.
Photo by Min An from Pexels
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