Research | Writing | Digital Humanities | Biblical Studies

Press ‘Publish’: Start an Academic Blog

Press ‘Publish’: Start an Academic Blog

Start a blog. Why? Because academic blogging is an accessible platform for communicating your passion with the world. A blog facilitates instant publishing with the largest potential audience of any medium in the world. Not to mention it’s cheaper than a coffee habit.

[UPDATED MAY 2014] —Coming soon–Expositus.org, offering blogs for scholars and tools for everyone! Get the latest from the official twitter feed @expositus1.

This post has two basic parts: (1) Five reasons why you should start an academic blog; and (2) The simplest and best way to start a blog (w. a brief video to demonstrate). Over the coming weeks, I will also be sharing interviews with prominent international academic bloggers who will share their thoughts on the subject. This is all roughly related to an academic paper I am presenting at SBL in November (abstract here).

(Click here to skip the “why” and go straight to the “how” part of this post).

Start a blog and Get a free domain + 30% off 

discount

Let’s start basic. What is a blog? The word blog is the contracted form of weblog, a website made up of ongoing entries, usually called posts, that are published in reverse chronological order (i.e., the most recent entry appears first, at the ‘top’ of the page, and so on). Others who view the posts can usually leave comments and so facilitate discussion. A blog is one of the most popular and user-friendly kinds of websites today. Virtually anyone can create a blog website.

Five Reasons to Start an Academic Blog

1. Dissemination of Scholarship

One the greatest benefits of academic blogging is the dissemination of scholarship, your ideas, your research, etc., not only to other interested researchers, but also to a broader audience. The web has led to a democratization of media, and gatekeepers are increasingly far and few between. This is a kind of academic freedom for the scholar, but it also allows access to users who might not otherwise be able to get ahold of this information. Keep in mind, too, that just over a third of the world is online (an est. 2.5 billon). This number is only expected to grow. That is a big audience, to say the least. If you’re reading this in English, then you know the most widely spoken language in the world. And with automated translation technology (such as Google translate), content can be roughly translated into many languages. I have a regular flow of traffic from around the world, and other academic bloggers report the same.

2. A Gathered Audience

Similarly, an academic blog will give you an opportunity to build an audience. Blogs utilize technology that allow users to subscribe to your content. When you publish something new, they receive a notification or even your entire new contribution. Generally, as you continue to produce content, your audience will grow.

Most academic bloggers I know have a diverse audience. This is certainly true in my case. Not only do I have fellow academics in my field visiting and reading, but I have a number of readers who are better described as ‘interested laypersons’, and still others who arrive at one post or another through a web search–readers who may otherwise have little interest in my field of research. I find it refreshing to be interacting beyond the guild.

3. Connecting in Your Field

Blogging will connect you with scholars, students, publishers, and even institutions in your field. The web makes building professional relationships across land and sea simpler than ever. I have established a number of relationships with other scholars largely based on my online presence. This does not mean you have to achieve any kind of popularity among other bloggers, either. Simply having a professional online presence, especially if you consistently write, will facilitate these connections.

4. Professional Development and Career Advancement

An academic blog is a means of professional development. Consistent blogging will sharpen your ability to write with clarity. A diverse audience will remind you to clearly define your terms and maintain accessibility to a broader audience. Public interaction with your ideas will also enhance your own thinking and shed light on ideas that need clarification.

Similarly, a well-done academic blog can be a nice feature on a CV. It shows you are interested in utilizing the latest technology for the sake of scholarship, teaching, etc. It can also demonstrate that you are interested in your field’s relevance to the broader interests of the public. Some potential employers may see a blog as an avenue by which their institution can gain exposure.

Let me give a personal example in this regard. In my application for a major scholarship at the University of Edinburgh, I spent significant time discussing the value of making scholarship accessible to a broader global audience (open access, etc.), and I had something to show for it—my website, modest as it is. While I cannot say precisely how this aspect of the application was received by the committee, in the end I was awarded this competitive scholarship by the School of Humanities.

5. Other Perks: Books, Gadgets, and (a little) Cash

Publishers and other companies in your scholarly niche know how powerful the web is for marketing. Academic blogging can give you opportunities to review books and products for these companies. This is not the reason you should blog, but, as I’ve called it, a perk. (Here are two recent examples from my site: a book and a gadget). As for products, my personal rule is to focus on those that I use, like, and can recommend to others regardless of the return.

Blogging also gives you the opportunity to share your own publications. Many publishers will even allow you to post pre-published forms of your writing for global access. Increasingly, blogging is the medium on the cutting edge of publications, reviews, and discussion.

Blogs also present other avenues for monetization, including affiliate marketing (i.e., earning a commission on referrals). Have you ever clicked an amazon book link on a blog? Chances are it was an affiliate link. I see this commonly used by academic bloggers, including those in biblical studies.

Here’s an example from my site. I recommend a word processing program called Scrivener, and I wrote a bit about how I incorporate it into my scholarly workflow. After I had published the post, I found out the company has an affiliate program whereby I earn a small commission on purchases (at no extra cost to the customer). It won’t make me rich, but it has earned enough to buy a small shelf’s-worth of books or a few month’s-worth of coffee (I drink a lot of the black stuff). To find out whether a product or service you use has such a program, look for a link at the bottom of their website that says “affiliates,” “partners,” etc., or use the following search in Google, replacing “productwebsite.com” with the real site:

affiliate site:productwebsite.com

Benefits to blogging, yes. But how easy is it to get it up and running?

How to Start an Academic Blog

You have a few options when it comes to starting a blog. The easiest—though not the best in my opinion—is to use a free hosted platform like Blogger (Google’s service). Free services have their limitations. Generally, there are fewer options to customize the look and feel of the site. Some services will also display ads on your site which may not be relevant to your subject (like wordpress.com, which hosts a limited wordpress site for free). And with all of these platforms the web address for your blog will be something like yourblog.freeplatform.com instead a simpler domain like yourname.com. Although I would recommend spending a few bucks, there are a number of scholars–you’ll hear from some of them shortly–who go with a free platform.

I started with a free platform (Xanga) in 2006, moved to Blogger for a couple of years, and I have self-hosted since 2009. The last of these experiences has been the best for me.

The Best Way

My recommendation: Acquire your own domain name and use a WordPress-powered blog. This is the best combination of simplicity and functionality.

It will cost you a few bucks per month on average. The cost entails two things: (1) A one-time purchase of a domain name (like yourname.com)—though you can get a free one below; and (2) The hosting service which provides your website a place to “live” on the net (websites use electricity, you know!). In the video below I sign up for a website, get a free domain name, and pay for my hosting plan for 24 months. Even signing up for a few extras, it came to less than $10/mo (£6/mo). Without the extras it’s around $6/mo.

You can use various companies for steps one and two, and I have tried and researched a number of them. I recently made a switch because of performance issues with my former host (Bluehost), and after spending hours researching, getting recommendations, and talking with folks inside these companies, I decided on InMotion for their dependability and scalability. I’ve been impressed and couldn’t recommend them more highly. Of course, you should do what you think is best.

If you decide to go with the service I use and recommend, InMotion, they have agreed to give my readers a discounted rate and a free domain name. They have given me a unique affiliate link for this discount, so know that if you purchase through it, I receive a commission at no extra cost to you. Feeding my coffee habit is completely up to you.

Start a blog and Get a free domain + 30% off 

discount

If you decide on InMotion and run into a snag with the instructions below, give me shout and I’ll help you out (contact page).

Get Your Blog Up in 3 Steps (Video)

I’ll use InMotion as an example, though if you choose another company, it should work similarly:

1. Sign-up with a web host (I recommend InMotion).

2. Choose a domain name (e.g., yourname.com).

3. Install WordPress with a click of the button.

That’s it. You’re ready to blog. Here’s a short video of me doing just this (enlarge if you need):

Hope that helps.

Next in the “Press Publish” series: Interviews on the subject with prominent academic bloggers in biblical studies. They will answer the following questions:

  1. When and why did you start blogging?
  2. What are a few of the benefits you see in blogging?
  3. Should more academics be blogging?
  4. What advice would you give an academic who is thinking about starting?

Interviews (as they’re posted):

  1. Ben Witherington
  2. Jim West
  3. Mike Bird
  4. Anthony Le Donne
  5. Scot McKnight
  6. Mark Goodacre (preamble, why/when, benefits…)
  7. Stephen Carlson
  8. Nijay Gupta
  9. Chris Keith
  10. Peter Enns
  11. Peter Head
  12. James McGrath
  13. Tim Bulkeley
  14. Joel Watts

I’m curious: What are your thoughts on academic blogging? Leave a comment below.

32 Responses to Press ‘Publish’: Start an Academic Blog

  1. Excellent post!

    I have some questions on the use of blogs to publish academic material instead of submitting the material to peer reviewed journals or monograph series.

    Witherington says that blogging has not been a hinderance to “proper” academic publishing? Would you agree that publishing ideas on a blog does not make it harder to get those same ideas published in books or peer-reviewed journals?

    I get the sense that a lot of people are biased against blogging because they confuse content with the medium. Witherington’s use of the word “proper” seems to be an example of this. They seem to think that the quality of a work depends on whether it is published on a blog or in print, as if the medium influences the value of the words. I don’t know if you read Larry Hurtado’s recent blog post web publishing. He says that publishing in peer-reviewed publications is the only way to get serious critical engagement from academics. Is that true? Is it a self-fullfilling prophecy? i.e. do academics limit their reading to the traditional publications because that is where academics publish because academics limit their reading to the traditional publications?

    Is there a way to get the obvious advantages of blogs while also getting the advantages of peer review? Some journals, such as Biblica, make their content freely available on the web, but they do not have a comments section and nor do they allow the authors to update their papers or make corrections.

    I have published two papers in peer-reviewed journals and have received little critical engagement on one, and none on the other. I probably get more feedback on my blog posts. Is that atypical?

    • Richard, you raise some important issues for discussion. In fact, I think I’d like to take up some of these themes further in another post (perhaps next week). Would you mind if I make reference to your comment here when I discuss this further?

      “Would you agree that publishing ideas on a blog does not make it harder to get those same ideas published in books or peer-reviewed journals?”

      Generally, yes, unless what you’re publishing via a blog is virtually the same as what you’re submitting to a journal. But to let ideas percolate on a blog seems to me a fine thing.

      “. . . publishing in peer-reviewed publications is the only way to get serious critical engagement from academics. Is that true?”

      I would put it like this: Publishing in peer-reviewed publications is the best way to get serious critical engagement from academics. This is more a comment on how things work, not necessarily on how they ‘ought’ to work. Larry Hurtado, with whom I have interacted a bit since coming to Edinburgh, is a wonderful realist about these issues, even if it has rubbed a few the wrong way on his blog. I agree with him that peer review is an important step in the advancement of scholarship, though I will admit with you that the kind of interaction one receives via peer-review publication is more subtle and less immediate than a digital social medium like blogging. (I hope to unpack this more next week).

      As far as academics reading blogs, I think more and more are. In fact, more academics themselves are blogging. But by and large the ‘guild’ still views the best, and to many, the ‘proper’, place of scholarship as formal peer-review publication. I see advantages and disadvantages to this.

      “Is there a way to get the obvious advantages of blogs while also getting the advantages of peer review?”

      Yes, perhaps a few different ways. One approach is to use a blog as a ‘think tank’ for ideas and arguments that will eventually develop into article submissions. In this way, the blog may function similar to the way an academic conference does now. Many scholars give papers that they plan to revise and submit for publication. This is in fact what I recently did with a paper I delivered at ISBL. Of course, the difference is that one receives a bit more ‘credentialed’ interaction at a conference than a blog (with exceptions).

      “I probably get more feedback on my blog posts. Is that atypical?”

      That sounds right to me. The formal publication process is slower and most readers never bother to email the author and engage the argument unless they do so later in print. It can take months or even a year or two to get a submission published, so engagement of new arguments are often years in the making. Again, I see advantages and disadvantages to this.

      Thanks for raising these important issues!

  2. […] Joshua Mann has written a blog post about how to start an academic blog, gearing up for a presentation on the topic for SBL in November. When I saw the title, it reminded me of the classic cartoon about how become a famous blogger. […]

  3. Hi Josh. Thanks for this helpful walk-through. I’ve got a quick question for you that I think you can answer:

    Can I still purchase my own domain through InMotion if I already have an active wordpress blog—to which I do not own the domain, yet—but still use my blog the way it’s currently set up?

    • Yes, Kris. You get a free domain when going with InMotion regardless, and you can move your current blog to your new domain name and continue to use the WordPress platform. InMotion has a tutorial on their site for moving over to a new domain, and they may even do it for you if you ask. Let me know if you have any other questions.

  4. […] Josh Mann has been conducting and posting interviews with Biblical scholars who blog, and the latest one is the interview that I did. Previously he interviewed Peter Head, Peter Enns, Chris Keith, Nijay Gupta, Stephen Carlson, Mark Goodacre (twice), Scot McKnight, Anthony LeDonne, Mike Bird, Jim West, and Ben Witherington. […]

  5. I like the valuable info you provide in your articles.

    I will bookmark your weblog and check again here regularly.

    I’m quite certain I’ll learn plenty of new stuff right here!
    Best of luck for the next!

Leave a reply