Make your Blog Stand Out

Written by Rachel Hall, Guardian Higher Education Network Editor

Imagine going to a party, full of strangers, where everybody is talking over each other. The guests are the best presented versions of themselves: some of them are using their style and flair to win attention, some are full of incredible insight and expertise, and others are telling brazen lies to manipulate their audience.

This is the internet, every day. It’s a multitude of unknown voices, all of which are clamouring for clicks.

If you want your content to stand out, you’re going to have to give people a reason to click. And if you want them to stay, you’re going to have to make it worth their while. If you want them to return, you need to convince them why it’s your voice – not anybody else’s – they should be listening to.

When you’re writing a blogpost to communicate your research or to reflect your views on a topic related to your discipline or even higher education more generally, you’re the expert. So compared to a lot of voices online, you already have something worthwhile to offer.

But imagine you’re at that party, and you’re standing in a dark corner, monologuing about the minutiae of your latest project. Would anybody listen?

Instead, you need to find the angle that grabs people. What concept will people identify with? What appeals to their emotions? What provides them with a fresh way of looking at something they already have some awareness of? What problem are you trying to solve, and how are you going about it?

Once you have this neatly packaged in a title that clearly and succinctly expresses why people should read your blog post, it’s time to think about how to write it.

A blog post isn’t the ideal space to explain something complicated. It’s not great for exploring multiple points, either. Instead, you want a tight angle of focus, and all the arguments in the piece should support that central point. If you want to say something tangential, then write another post.

Because that’s your third goal: to get people returning to you. Make it clear why you’re the authority on this topic, and feel free to draw on any relevant personal experience, whether it comes from your research or everyday life. That’s the human element that helps keep people coming back for more.

After all, when you go back to the same party, you’ll always make a beeline for the familiar face, not the strangers, right?

Interested in reading blog posts from the university community? Join the Guardian’s higher education network for comment, analysis and job opportunities, by and for university professionals. Follow us on Twitter @gdnhighered.

And want to try your hand at writing a blog post to be published on the Guardian website? Feel free to email your pitch to rachel.hall@theguardian.com.

Unblock your Writing

Written by Nudrat Siddiqui, Research Staff Development Officer, Centre for Research Staff Development 

Have you ever had those days when you sit down at your computer to write a journal article or book chapter only to spend the next few hours transfixed by the glow of a blank Word document, willing the words to come without success? With the advent of the REF and the  importance of a steady publication record in securing a lectureship position, it’s no wonder that writing is often seen as an onerous and daunting rite that can make or break our future in academia. This pressure to produce high quality research outputs makes it tempting to shelve our writing plans for another day and to face the paralysis of writer’s block on the occasions when we do sit down to write.

Studying for a writing-intensive Arts & Humanities PhD, I’ve experienced the blank Word document scenario many times, but have picked up a few strategies along the way that unclog my thoughts and get those words and sentences flowing. Whether you are a seasoned writer who already has a list of publications to your name or are preparing to write your first journal article, considering the tips below can help overcome writer’s block:

Brainstorm in Advance

Doing the thinking about the broad ideas and points that you want to get across in your piece before you sit down to write can kick-start the writing process. Take notes to capture your ideas using arrows, flow charts, stick figure cartoons, holding off using complete sentences until you actually sit down to write.

Who says you Need to Start at the Beginning?

Starting at the beginning of an article or chapter may seem like a logical approach, but it can often be the most challenging. This is especially true if you are a writing perfectionist who inflicts pressure on yourself to produce a faultless article. What sections are you most interested and enthusiastic about? Is it the results, the methods, the recommendations? Start there instead. Once you’ve eased into the flow of writing with the paragraphs that come to you more fluidly, revisit the trickier beginning.

Don’t get Stuck on the Wrong Word

Is there a word or sentence you have written that doesn’t look right? Don’t spend lots of time lingering on it trying to come up with alternative ways of rephrasing it. Highlight it so you can easily identify it later, move on, and return to it in your second draft to make alterations.

Free Write

Set an alarm for five minutes and during this time write anything and everything that comes to mind. If what you’re writing is relevant to the topic you need to write about, great, but even if it is far removed from it, that’s fine too. Getting those unrelated, preoccupying thoughts out on paper can free up the mental space you need to concentrate on writing about your research. This strategy is an excellent warm up and once the five minutes are up it’s often easier to write more freely without inhibition.

Plan When you Write – And Where

Schedule fixed days and times of the week to write and stick to them. If you struggle with concentrating for extended periods of times, make them short, easily surmountable fifteen-twenty minute slots. Try writing at different times of the day until you find a time that’s optimal for you.

When you need to spend more time on your writing, think about where you are most likely to succeed. The sight of my desk at home is often enough to send ripples of anxiety and procrastination through me. If like me, writing from home or your office is counter-productive, check if you can arrange a weekly working-from-home morning or day and venture out into one of the many inspiring spaces around London. Some of my favourite spots to write include the Barbican and the Hoxton Hotel lobby café which are relatively quiet, have free, fast Wi-Fi and lots of laptop sockets. The British Library Reading Rooms are also a fool-proof venue in which to write without noise or interruption.

Try Social Writing

Writing can often feel solitary, but it doesn’t have to be. There are various ‘Write Together’ and ‘Shut-up and Write’ groups on Meetup.com that encourage people to get together and write for an allocated period of time. Being surrounded by other people busily tapping away on their laptops can be a motivating factor to spur on your own writing. The writing is often followed by pub/café socials where you will have the opportunity to share your writing challenges and hear other people’s experiences. The Centre for Research Staff Development will also be running Shup up and Write sessions in the near future so look out for these in our weekly newsletter or email amy.birch@kcl.ac.uk for more details.

I hope these tips boost your writing practice. While it certainly can be challenging at times, writing can also be rewarding and enjoyable and is a fantastic activity to reflect on your research and organise your ideas about it. So settle down and get writing!

An Introduction to the Research Staff Representative Committee

Written by Dr Martin Eichmann, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Department of Immunobiology & Chair of the Research Staff Representative Committee

Some of us “research staff” will be aware that in early 2017 we relaunched the College wide Research Staff Representative Committee (RSRC) but not too many will know what it is here for. In my role as Chair of the RSRC I would like to give you a quick introduction to the RSRC, its members, goals and how you can interact with it.

Important things first: The RSRC is a “by us for us” initiative for research staff – by that I mean staff members on fixed-term contracts whose primary role is doing research, of which there are close to 2,000 at King’s. The main purpose of the RSRC is to be the collective “voice” of research staff, to speak up and represent their opinions on King’s committees to engage in new policies affecting research staff and facilitate agendas promoting career development for research staff. The RSRC is inclusive. It consists of representatives from most faculties (themselves being research staff and members of the respective faculty research staff network) and one member representing Technicians, Research Assistants and Teaching Fellows.

We promote our views on policies affecting research staff at the highest level of the university at the College Research Committee and on career development activities at the Centre for Research Staff Development Oversight Group. The RSRC will facilitate sharing of best practices between research staff networks at faculty level and guarantee effective two-way communication between research staff networks and the university to promote more equality throughout King’s. We have set out our aims to promote research staff career development, increase the visibility of research staff and clarify the roles of research staff, all of which are set out in more detail on our new webpage.

So far our views have already been heard through providing feedback to the College’s response to Higher Education Funding Council for England’s (HEFCE) consultation on the second Research Excellence Framework (REF) and to the College-wide teaching policy for research staff as well as promoting and providing feedback to the King’s Behaviours policy.

The RSRC reps are here for you so please get in touch with them or email the RSRC. if you want to contribute or share your opinions with us. I would also like to encourage research staff to actively participate in their local departmental of faculty research staff network which ultimately feed into the RSRC.

I hope that the RSRC will evolve so that all research staff see it as their means to voice their opinions and actively influence policy at College level to lead to a more inclusive decision making process.

Ways to Get your Voice Heard

Written by Dr Kathy Barrett, University Lead for Research Staff Development, Centre for Research Staff Development 

While I was doing my PhD I had a colleague who arrived in our research group as a fairly timid postdoc.  Over time she gained more and more in confidence in speaking to the group about her research.  She hadn’t obviously practiced this skill, so I asked her where her confidence had come from.  She told me the source was the amateur dramatics she had been doing outside of work.  This opened my eyes to the myriad ways in which we can build our own capabilities, not just the obvious ones.

Being heard is part of your role in any profession.  If you wish to climb the ladder the people around you need to know you exist.  Within any organisation, those who are valued are more often the people who contribute not just through the obvious channels, for example in a university by doing research, but also by their citizenship.  While it could be argued that recent bureaucracy, for example the REF, is eroding this aspect of academic life1, there are still Higher Education Institutes that place a high value on it.  In fact, Exeter University has a webpage2 devoted to academic citizenship outlining the expectations placed on staff.  Even if you are content with where you are, reminding others of your existence every so often will mean that you continue to be included in interesting projects.

Learning how to get your voice heard in an effective manner is not necessarily something that will come overnight, as my previous colleague and now good friend learnt and showed me.  Yet by continuing to challenge yourself through new channels it is surprising what you can achieve.  Engaging with academic citizenship can also give you an understanding of how the university works, an insight that can prove very useful when you are trying to make things happen.

There are a multitude of opportunities at King’s to help you build your self-esteem and contribute to academic life, both small and large.  We highlighted some of these in the exhibition3 at the recent Research Staff Event 2017.  As a minimum, just responding to surveys such as the Careers in Research Online Survey (CROS) can result in the Centre for Research Staff Development being able to provide you with more relevant activities and better support for you in your role.  We have recently run a workshop on impact as a result of your contribution to the CROS and are gearing up, in collaboration with the Research Staff Representative Committee, to implement policies that raise the profile of research staff within King’s.  Chances are we will be offering you the opportunity to take up your role as an academic citizen and contribute to this project.  Who knows, this could even put you in the running for a King’s Award for the Most Outstanding Contribution to the Research Staff Experience4 next year!

  1. https://www.timeshighereducation.com/features/is-academic-citizenship-under-strain/2018134.article
  2. http://www.exeter.ac.uk/staff/exeteracademic/academiccommunity/academiccitizenship/
  3. https://www.kcl.ac.uk/innovation/research/Centre-for-Research-Staff-Development/Research-Staff-Event-2017.aspx
  4. https://www.kcl.ac.uk/innovation/research/Centre-for-Research-Staff-Development/Kings-Award.aspx