As you know in my work and studying a big part of what I do is social research. I find the relationship between research and blogging to be a close one; research helps my blogging and blogging helps my research. I find new topics, organise my thinking and plan using my research skills, and in my work I find blogging forces me to give my personal opinion, to work fast and be reactive to key issues that might increase my influence in the blogosphere.
Research skills relevant to blogging are about:
- Defining a question
- Analysing data (anything can be data, we’re not just talking statistics here)
- Unpacking complex issues
- Observing and
- Arriving at conclusions and understanding their limitations
Five research tips for bloggers
Make media alerts work for you
This is something I’ve always done for work but didn’t think about doing for my blog until recently. So my blog focus is a) parenting, but more specifically parental mental health, eco-parenting and child development. Once you can narrow the focus of your interest in this way and understand keywords in these areas you can bring new blog post ideas directly to your inbox by harnessing the power of alerts. I use google alerts but there are lots of tools out there. I have alerts set up for mothering and mental health and working parents. This week these alerts brought a story from the media directly to me, the headline that ‘Working Mother’s no longer Feel Guilty’ so within an hour I had a ‘hot topic’ at my fingertips and could blog in time to join in with the discussions across social media. Alerts help me to be reactive and drive interesting content relevant to my readership. If you’re interested in policy and commenting on institutional approaches to your blog interests you could set up alerts from relevant government departments. I like to get Department of Health alerts in the area of mental health for example. Getting the keywords right can involve a bit of trial and error but once you get it right you have live issues arriving straight to your inbox saving you research time and maximizing the effectiveness of your reading time.
Ask questions of data and stories
Ever see a media headline and just run with it? I am really interested in media literacy, asking the right questions of what we’re told rather than accept the journalist’s interpretation. This was highlighted really nicely this week.
My quick view of this graph told me that gun crimes fell following the introduction of the ‘stand your ground’ law. But take a closer look, the Y axis has been flipped so what looked like a sharp fall actually represents a sharp rise.
Don’t forget to ask:
- Who created the message?
- What opinions or biases might they have?
- Why this headline? What is it trying to achieve?
- Might others understand this differently than me?
- Is there anything that is omitted from the article? Could I do some more reading around this to see what’s missing?
Find new sources in untapped areas
So you usually read fellow bloggers, mainstream news and online magazines. What are you missing? How about reading new sources to find ideas for new material, what about an online journal in your area of interest? It might be quite academic or heavy but have a message you could write in a way your readers might like. I am really interested in motherhood and there’s a great free academic resource called Mamsie an online journal with a lot to say about my area of interest, an untapped resource that I now love to browse for new ideas.
Define your question
This is all about critical thinking, so you want to write an engaging blog piece, how can you unpack your topic for your reader? Do you need to define the issue for them? Maybe you need to explain the history of the issue, what is the main idea you want to bring across? Are you wanting to open up a debate, start a conversation or convince someone of your argument? Do you have enough evidence to back up your argument, or a new idea that hasn’t been talked about yet? If you’re writing a piece you think you’re going to want to promote then defining your research question can be a useful starting point.
Draft and restructure
Though scientific in its approach I actually see research as a craft, refining and redefining, drafting and restructuring to help the flow of an argument I see a lot of potential for creativity. Mindmapping is my favoured way of looking at an issue, of drafting and then restructuring my points. This mindmap came out of my prep for my recent post on working parents, it didn’t take long but cut my drafting time as I knew what I was going to say before I started blogging:
What about you, do you apply non-traditional blogging skills to your blogs?