Archive for the ‘About reading & writing blogs’ Category

I hope the exercise we did in class this week – capturing the essence of each paper in one tweet – got you thinking about how to write smartly and concisely. I would like to challenge you to adopt the same approach when you write your reading notes and blog posts.

In your reading notes, aim for quality, not quantity. Write one “tweet” that summarizes the main point of the reading rather than 2 rambling paragraphs that make me wonder whether you understood what you read. Capture the essence. The reading notes I ask for are not a simple summary of what you read. That’s too easy. You can keep a summary for yourself if it helps you, but what I ask for is an assessment – thinking about those ideas and deciding which one is the most important. As you saw in class, that’s not easy – it requires more thinking, less writing. Let that be your mantra:

More thinking, less doing. Work smart.

For your blog posts, which I have really enjoyed reading, I invite you to become familiar with blogging culture and expectations. I feel that most of you expect way more of yourselves than blogging requires. I asked you about this yesterday, but didn’t get answers, so I don’t know if my feeling is correct…

Not every blog post needs to be smart and well-documented. It is OK to post a short commentary, an example, a half-baked thought that shows us what you’re thinking about. It’s OK to keep blog posts short, concise, and smart. It’s OK to keep each sentence short, concise, and smart. Academic writing is notoriously bad. Unlearn it.

In academese, the writer’s chief goal is to defend himself against the accusation that he is naïve about his own enterprise. So academics describe what other academics do instead of what they study (“In recent years there has been increased interest in X”). They use many metaconcepts—concepts about concepts, like level, perspective, framework, and approach—instead of writing “call the police,” they write, “approach this problem from a law-enforcement perspective.” They turn verbs into nouns—instead of writing, “People cooperated more,” they write, “Levels of cooperation increased.” And they sprinkle their prose with hedges—somewhat, virtually, partially—in an attempt to get off the hook should anyone ever try to prove them wrong.  – Harvard Psychologist Steven Pinker, from his book that came out yesterday and that I can’t wait to read.

So, tell me. In your understanding, what makes good writing? What makes good writing for blog posts?

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“blogworthy”

Posted: September 9, 2013 in About reading & writing blogs
Tags: ,

One of the things that makes blogging difficult is the fear that we are not experts and we don’t have any “blogworthy” wisdom to share. As a result, we get blogger’s block and we don’t blog at all…

One of the main reasons why I ask you to blog is so that you feel all these feelings associated with blogging and therefore understand bloggers and blogging culture a bit better.

While I sympathize with the feelings, I really want to make sure you don’t think about each blog post as a masterpiece. It isn’t. It shouldn’t be. You shouldn’t spend more than 30 minutes on a blog post. If it has your attention and you are thinking about it, and is related to class, it is interesting and you should blog about it.

Or tweet. Please see some older posts about the very same topic – and see how the advice I gave to those students can be help you, too:

You’ll see that you are not alone. Most students experience this apprehension at the beginning of the semester. It is important that you move past it.

If you don’t know what to blog about this week, may I give you an idea? How about you blog about Twitter. Ask questions, or give advice to classmates about anything Twitter related. How you found people to follow, or maybe a short list of people they should follow, a story about how you engaged on Twitter with someone you didn’t know, or how you manage to remember to log in and tweet… Or any other tips or questions that come to mind.

As I am reading your blogs, I feel the need to remind and/or educate you about a couple of very basic things:

  1. Linking. Link from text, like this. Don’t just paste URLs in. They’re ugly. According to Tim Berners-Lee (don’t know who he is? Google and find out!!!) URLs were never meant to be seen.
  2. Widgets. Use widgets to customize your wordpress theme. Show your tags and categories on the side bars.
  3. Settings. Go through them. See what’s there. Customize. Turn on liking and rating for posts and for comments.

Don’t be lazy. Figure out WordPress. There is a lot of detailed information out there. Use it.

You can also watch these screencasts I created a long time back about some wordpress basics. The dashboard looked a bit different then, but it’s the same idea. I made them for my liberal arts undergrads who were scared of technology. You are taking a PhD level class in Technology. You can figure this out. Just try, please.

I don’t think you need this kind of help, but here it is, just in case. 🙂

I was used to only academic writing, where imaginary mean, anonymous reviewers scrutinize every word and comma and reply with snarky “constructive feedback” that hurts the core of your being and ruin your self-esteem.

But I really wanted to blog.

I wanted a platform for daring, unfinished ideas. A platform for fun, for experimentation, free of the absolute need for academic citations.

Writing the first few blog posts was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. You put yourself out there – no citations, no proofreading, and EVERYONE can see!!! They will kill me!

They didn’t.

The worst that happened is, I got ignored.

The best – I got interesting comments, new ideas, or notes that some of my posts have really helped people. Yay!

Writing honestly, without the protection of the academic article formula is scary. It is because you dare to be vulnerable. Brenee Brown says that we admire vulnerability in others but we hate it in ourselves. Yes, being vulnerable is scary. But it is brave.

Really, watch this video:

So, listen. I know you’re nervous. It’s normal. We all are. I need you to be nervous and do it anyway, so you can understand what it’s like to be a blogger. So you can appreciate other bloggers’ courage. So you can meet friends, block trolls, and help each other. In the end, more good than bad will come out of this – even if the only good thing is that you get to understand blogging culture a bit.

This is as safe as it can be. You have a community of friendly readers. You have a safety net.  Be brave, jump in. I won’t let you drown. I promise.

Dr. V

Want to know more about the culture of blogging and blogging writing style? Check out this book, you’ll read it in a couple of hours.

Whether you realized it or not, we learned a lot during the first week of class.

If you need some help or reminders with:

  • using Google Reader
  • understanding blog terms (post, page, permalink, and more: comment, trackback)
  • an overview of the WordPress dashboard as it looked like some time back, and/or
  • help creating a new blog post in WordPress

Please see these tutorials I created for students just like you. Of course, you can also learn how to get started directly from WordPress – and here is a good Twitter guide book from Mashable (a social media blog you should be following).

If you need help with Twitter, please see these posts I wrote for students just like you 🙂 You can browse the posts tagged “Twitter” by clicking the word “twitter” in the cloud tag on the left side bar.

We ended class with a to do list for you. I am sure you have everything in your notes, but just in case, here it is again:

  1. Set up your blog. You can use your real name or a pseudonym. Post your blog’s URL in a comment on this first post about class.
  2. Set up your Twitter account. Write your bio, customize your picture (avatar). Say hi to me on Twitter by sending a tweet that begins with @mihaela_v. Include the characters #TECH621 in your tweet. So, you can type a tweet such as: “@mihaela_v Hi, I’m on Twitter now. #TECH621”
  3. Do the readings and assignment for next week. See the syllabus. Readings are on Blackboard. You can collect the 20 social media sites on your blog. Just have them available in class. Print the list out or bring your computer. Each item on the list should include a brief description of the site. For example: Reddit.com – social news; Spotify.com – music listening/sharing.
  4. Subscribe to this blog. You can start by email, but I recommend you figure out Google Reader. Also, you may look into making iGoogle your home page. Here is what mine looks like, after I customized it with the widgets I need most:

iGoogle screen shotQuestions? Please let me know in the comments below.

As you get started on setting up your blog for TECH 621, it’s important that you understand how blogs work. If you are familiar with terms such as blog, blog post, permalink, trackback, RSS feed, and understand the distinction between tags and categories, you’re good to go.

But if these terms aren’t clear, please make sure you read about them and understand them. Some older posts I wrote can help you:

I was just about to write a post about how to plan and write a successful blog for class, when I realized… it’s already in the syllabus!

I’m pasting below the relevant part from the syllabus, in an attempt to direct your attention to it.

Comment on this post within 10 hours (ask a question, or somehow indicate you’ve read the post) to be entered in a drawing for a small prize.

“…

Each student will write a personal blog (readable by only class members, or open – your choice). The blog will be professional, which means you’ll write about work (and a bit of work-related fun), not your personal life, food and movie reviews (unless they’re relevant to your work).

Your blog will have 2 categories of posts:

1. Required topic blog posts:

  • notes on readings – YOUR takeaways – What are the 3-5 points that are important to YOU? What did YOU take away from the reading? What did it mean to YOU? How is it relevant to YOU? What questions & critiques do you have?
  • notes on social media tools – identify, write about, and review social media tools you come across.

2. Elective topic blog posts:

  • Ideas, thoughts, opinions, commentary on anything you see/read/hear that is or can be related to class and/or your work. For example, you may view the videos I posted on the Ning network, and write your thoughts about them. Or you can post your thoughts/opinions about something that was discussed in class, something that happened, etc. You can post videos, photos, etc.
  • Some mix of personal or humorous posts ad spice to your blog and show your humanity and complexity. Just keep it work-appropriate 🙂
  • Questions, fears, unfinished ideas – blogs are most interesting when they document your thinking process rather than when they show a finished, polished “final paper.”

Keep the writing simple, concise, clear, and grammatically correct. Remember, this is (part of) your online resume.

…”