Academic Advice, Writing

Why Grad Students (or Anyone) Should Blog


This blog started out as an experiment. As I said in the beginning, I wasn’t sure what it would become. A conversation starter? A forum for advice I never got? A way to carry on the blog-honored tradition of public ranting?

The truth is, it has turned into something else entirely. I started the blog the same month I started grad school. Some—including myself—wondered if blogging was the best use of a grad student’s minimal spare time. However, I can now say it has absolutely been worth it.

So here are 7 reasons why grad students (or anyone) should blog:

1. It’s the foundation of a writing habit.

Every book of writing advice I’ve read repeats the same refrain: The key to writing is to make a schedule, stick to it, and protect it like gold. Writing is less about being struck by moments of grand inspiration or “binge writing” when deadlines come near; it’s sitting down and plugging away, day after day. Whether it’s a certain number of minutes, words, or pages, productive writers set schedules. And. Just. Write.

Blogging is an experiment in finding a writing habit that works for you. Keep track of your writing in a simple notebook or Excel file. What times of the day are you at your best? What helps you stick to a schedule? What gets you off track? Do you prefer to write in short, 25 minute bursts or longer blocks of time?  If it’s the latter, is that an excuse to procrastinate until you have a mythical block of uninterrupted time (I know because it’s me). If so, can you train yourself to write in shorter blocks?

So rather than thinking “I don’t have time to start a blog,” the truth is you don’t have time not to get yourself on a writing schedule. The consistency of a blog can help with that. Once you’re on a writing schedule, you will actually get all of your academic and professional writing done much faster. Seriously, you’ll meet deadlines. You’ll even run out of projects to work on (hence the blog to keep you going).

2. It’s helps you remain a decent writer

Regardless of your profession, there’s probably one type of writing you do all day. It could be reports, product evaluations, or hoards of emails. Unless you’re a journalist or a poet, any writing talent you ever had can quickly atrophy through your work writing. If you’re in academia, you’re at particularly high risk; it’s widely acknowledged that academic writing makes you a terrible writer. The sentences we get away with would make any high school English teacher cringe.

The ability to write for a wider audience is a huge asset. Whether you seize the opportunity to write an op-ed, give a presentation, or someday pen your grand memoir, you’re going to need sharp chops. A blog is a great way to keep your writing-muscles primed for a variety of styles. You can practice qualities that are not always valued in your field. (In academia, this might include such virtues as brevity, clarity, and—god forbid—creativity.) Use ’em or lose ’em.

Plus, if you ever need a quick turnaround on a presentation, guest lecture, or just a topic that comes up over dinner, you can do flip back to  your blog where you’ll have a well structured, presentable argument (written in clearly communicable form) at your fingertips. Seriously, just blog for a bit, and you’ll find you have a lot more to say about the issues you care about than you may have thought.

3. It’s a calling card.

Say it with me now: “Here’s a link to my blog.”

If you’re new to the professional scene, odds are you don’t have a published body of work to show off. Published work makes you “a real person” in many fields, but if you’re a grad student, it will likely be years before you’ve gathered a body of work for people to look up.

In lieu of this, a blog can act as your “calling card.” Literally, put the link on your business card and attach it to the end of your email signature. Pass it along. Get some google search results out of it.

In addition to showing people what you’re about (see #4), it demonstrates that you are (a) serious about writing, (b) can keep to a schedule, and (c) are relatively tech savvy (though rest assured it takes very little technical knowhow to manage a blog). These attributes can serve to round out your (relatively empty) academic and professional profile.

4. It gets your work out there.

Particularly if you’re in grad school, you’re hopefully well aware that no one outside of your field has any idea what you do. When you have a blog, you can explain your work to the wider world in a straightforward way. Even if your peers never actually read your blog, they’ll see your entries pop up on social media. Over time, they’ll begin to get a general picture of what exactly it is that you do.

You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the connections that come from this social-media-osmosis. Friends with common interests come out of the woodwork. People will send you interesting links. There may even an opportunity that comes up within their circles and they can say, “Oh, I know a guy who blogs about that a lot.” Connection made.

5. It’s thought therapy.

Life is full of new and challenging ideas, particularly if you’re in grad school. You’ll be grappling with a lot of new material, and hopefully expected to form cohesive thoughts around it. I’m a huge believer that, as Stephen King says, “writing is refined thinking.” Sometimes you honestly don’t know what you really think about something until you write about it. Don’t believe me? Start a blog.

6. It lets you chase wild geese.

You may be in a field where your work must remain intensely focused on one topic. This not only comes with the danger of being rather boring at parties, but you can miss important, related work going on in other fields. I’ve written before about the benefits of chasing your wild geese, and a blog lets you satisfy that itch about a topic you find fascinating, but that may not be directly related to your work.

More often than not, however, you’ll find that the new knowledge-nuggets you dig up will actually find their ways into your work, helping you make new analogies or connections that can expand your field. At the very least, you’ll be a more interesting dinner conversationalist.

7. It becomes a cohesive story.

This is the big one. If you’re anything like me, you came into grad school (or have spent your whole life) unsure of exactly what you want to do, study, or be. I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but if you simply free yourself up to blog about whatever interests you that week—something you read in class, saw online, or got wrong at trivia night—you’ll find that, in hindsight, it becomes a relatively cohesive story of who you are and what you’re passionate about. Particularly if you “tag” your blog posts by topic, you can eventually see a picture of your key interests begin to emerge. (A literal picture—if you’re reading this on a desktop, check out the word cloud in the left sidebar.) The patterns may take you by surprise. I for one didn’t know last year how interested I was in the politics of dialects, but it just keeps on coming up in my blog posts. A new line of research is born!

If I haven’t convinced you by now, no need to worry. There are surely other ways to get yourself on a writing schedule and get your work out there… I just can’t think of a better one. Let me know if you have other ideas!

Feel free to comment below or on the blog’s Facebook Page.

Follow on Twitter @ChrisKBacon

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