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How to create an academic blog: Tone, audience, credibility, and potential currency

By Simon Lambe / November 2020

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This article offers suggestions as to what works and what does not work when running a blog. I share my own experience of blogging, beginning with some academic and professional context, before providing examples of practice—as well as practical implications and advice—from my own blog. Indeed, my professional context is as an Associate Learning Developer within the Centre for Research Informed Teaching at London South Bank University (LSBU) in the UK. This role involves supporting learning by enhancing students’ critical thinking and writing.

My academic background is in history, specifically British history, and historical research: In other words, making sense of the past in a critical way. Given my passion for inspiring learners, and in promoting history as a discipline, the purpose of this article is to bring together these two elements of my professional profile, with the purpose of disseminating my expertise to a broader, public audience through the use of a WordPress blog, The Tudor World. Crucially, although this article is subject-specific, its findings should be relevant to most—if not all—disciplines as the benefits and pitfalls identified below should be largely universal.

The Rise of Digital Media

The inexorable rise of digital media and technologies means anyone can start a blog on any subject, which of course raises the question of reliability, a subject which should be carefully considered when engaging with any online content. Usually, the credentials of a blogger are enough to instill confidence, which is presumably why any respectable blog will come complete with a biography section. In this case, my chosen subject was early modern English history, specifically the Tudor dynasty (1485–1603), the subject of my own research. In its broadest sense, history can often resonate with contemporary events and we often need a voice to contextualize and rationalize current affairs, debates, and critical issues [1]. Nowhere was this currency more apparent than in the fierce public debate over the purpose, meaning, and propriety of statues of historical figures, predominantly in the U.S. and here in the UK, especially those individuals who had made their fortunes from slavery. Indeed, one success of the Black Lives Matters (BLM) campaign, from which this issue was most obviously brought to the public consciousness, was that certainly in the UK, we were forced to consider the way we commemorate our national heritage and then to reassess how we have celebrated people and events from our collective past. There are also accusations that the destruction of statues is either an attempt to erase—or to edit—the past, while others suggest it is simply an act of rebellion to bring about change that is too slow in coming. If nothing else, one outcome of this discourse, from a purely selfish perspective, is that people are talking about history in public and in a critical way: We are asking important questions about our past.

While not every matter discussed on blogs will be as loaded or as heated as this example, this medium certainly has the potential to reach students (both current and potential), academics, and those with a general, but a keen, interest in history. Indeed, with this in mind, it is worth noting I have been involved in assessment before that has tried and failed to integrate blogging into module design, perhaps because it has been too onerous for students to undertake [2]. Yet, there is still obvious potential for students to record their thoughts and learning experiences in the form of blog posts and this could be a meaningful mode of assessment, as it stretches students’ ability to write for a variety of audiences in a range of contexts. For example, I am currently teaching on a first-year history module at LSBU, The Historian’s Toolkit, which equips undergraduate students with the essential skills they will need to succeed as historians, covering the use of archives and critical thinking to using library databases. Part of the formative assessment for this module involves the submission of two 300-word blog posts that reflect on using sources and primary documents in a critical way; the reflective nature of the blogs in turn aid the students in creating their summative assessment, a 2,000-word research project (or a mini dissertation). The students have greatly enjoyed the process and this format has allowed them to engage with the discipline using an altogether different writing style, i.e. being less formal than in a standard essay. 

Outside the classroom, blogging has created an outlet in which it is possible to demonstrate historical analysis and to offer comparative review to a public audience, especially to non-specialists. This is because it is free and open-access, meaning it can be an entirely inclusive undertaking and can impact a public audience. Accordingly, one challenge bloggers face is getting the writing style right. For many academics, moving from a formal to informal tone can be a challenge and it is certainly an obstacle I struggled with at first, but learning to write with contractions and using exclamation marks every so often has helped me to publish in popular outlets, including writing a recent piece for the popular British magazine History Today [3].

The first important matter to note is that, as a medium which is outside of institutional ownership, an academic can publish content on a blog with complete control which, of course, is a double-edged sword: There is obvious creative freedom, however, an author’s institution might become involved in controversy if the author does not carefully qualify what they say or provide a statement to distance oneself from an employer, as was the case at the London School of Economics around a decade ago [4]. The same is true for Twitter; the disclaimer “all views my own” is ubiquitous on that social media platform [5]. A further consideration is that of intellectual property. Although content posted on any blog is timestamped, it is not unheard of for valuable, cutting edge academic research to be copied and pasted elsewhere without attribution [6]. We must now consider my findings from working on a blog to date within my context in a British university. The intention is for these experiences to support those with an active blog and to offer guidance to anyone considering starting a blog, particularly if it is for the first time. There are three key points of guidance: time, confidence, and forethought.

Three Points of Guidance

Time. For many in education, time is of the essence and we have little of it to spare beyond our core duties. Blogging is certainly an activity that can eat into this time, especially as we can become consumed by the process, for example by obsessing over finding the perfect image to accompany a post (and I speak from experience here). It is important to be realistic about how much content we expect to publish and what that frequency should be. One very useful piece of advice I received was to have lots of prepared posts to publish in quick succession, perhaps between five and 10, in the early stages of your blog, so that initial momentum can be built up. These posts only need to be introductory or reflections on previous experiences, they do not need to be related to current events. As discussed previously, blogs can be used as a meaningful pedagogical tool, and the authorship of a blog—and the use of examples from it in the classroom—can demonstrate its inherent educational value to students.

Confidence. Academics might publish a niche research article in a peer-reviewed journal, but the audience is likely to be limited to those with particular expertise in the same area or discipline; posting on an open-access forum, such as a blog, can be daunting, precisely because anyone can access it. No matter whether they are an expert or not, anyone can consume this content. As noted by Arthur Charpentier, blogging is “somewhere between an academic paper and a journalist article [7].” Therefore, the question is: Do you allow or remove comments? In my case, I chose to remove the commentary capacity. I felt it might be more appropriate for comments on the article to come to me via email, to be addressed privately, or for comments to be made on LinkedIn, which is typically where I will post a link to the latest article once published. This approach allows for slightly more control, which is important, as I have previously seen attempts at character assassination on blogs belonging to colleagues and this does not serve anyone well. I should also add that, although I have mentioned BLM, I chose not to blog about it because I was still considering the complexity of the debate and wondered whether I had anything original or nuanced enough to add to the conversation to be worthwhile. As a student of the early Tudor English gentry, it also does not help that my own research was once described as being about “rich, old, dead, white men,” which could rather undermine my contribution. What this amounts to is whether one has the inclination to venture into some of the more controversial topics in a public forum. In one of my posts, in which I compare Dominic Cummings, prominent advisor to the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, to Henry VIII’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, I make the point that I try to live by the same rules in my blog space as I would at a dinner party: try to avoid the topics of politics and religion. Of course, sometimes that is not always easy or, indeed, the right thing to do. For some, such topics are unavoidable, in which case publication of material related to any sensitive subjects should not be hurried. 

Forethought. Once our prepared posts run out, we will inevitably reach a point of crisis: What should I write about next? I publish perhaps every two to three months, which is not necessarily the greatest frequency of publication. This is probably because I often lack the (1) time and (2) confidence to put my neck on the line in public discourse. The critical factor here is forethought so we do not panic and simply publish content without due care or attention. One approach I have employed is to create a list of potential subjects that could be explored or simply to create a post that can be extended or updated over time. For example, I created—and have regularly updated—a rather meta post about some of my favorite history bloggers and Twitter users, which serves as an excellent means of keeping my own blog current while forcing me to keep a close eye on what is happening in this area, something which a blogger in another discipline could easily adopt. Equally, not applying too much pressure to publish extensive, complex posts is important; there is nothing wrong with posting shorter pieces, even light-hearted content will work. 


What is obvious from my own experience is that blogging provides an apposite opportunity to explore historical concepts, events, and problems with great currency and to engage in debates that connect the past to the present in a meaningful way, although having the time, confidence, and forethought—as well as the inclination­—to do so can often be a significant challenge. Yet, we must not forget that the benefits of keeping a blog also include its application in a teaching and learning context; it allows us to understand a medium with which students can experiment as part of their assessment and broaden their portfolio of writing experiences.



[1] Cole, J. Blogging current affairs history. Journal of Contemporary History 46, 3 (2011), 658–670.

[2] Avramenko, A. and Nerantzi, C. Exploring the use of social media in the higher education classroom. In Rowell, C. (ed.) Social Media in Higher Education: Case Studies, Reflections and Analysis. Cambridge: Open Book, 2019, 73–82.

[3] Lambe, S.E.J. Life in the time of plague. History Today 70, 7 (2020), 14–15.

[4] BBC News. LSE investigates lecturer’s blog over race row. May 19, 2011.

[5] Knight, C.G., and Kaye, L.K. ‘“To tweet or not to tweet?” A comparison of academics’ and students’ usage of Twitter in academic contexts’. Innovation in Education and Teaching International 53, 2 (2016), 145–155.

[6] Williams, L. Academic blogging: a risk worth taking? The Guardian. December 4, 2013.

[7] Charpentier, A. The role of blogging in academia. Freakonometrics. October 10, 2013.  

About the Author

Simon Lambe’s academic background is in late medieval and early modern English history, more specifically gentry and royal relations in early Tudor England. He has written and presented widely on the subject and has a particular interest in the Paulet family of Hinton St George, Somerset. In 2018, Lambe was the recipient of the Institute of Historical Research’s Scouloudi Research Award and, in 2019; he received a Research and Publication Award from The Society for Court Studies. Earlier this year, Lambe’s chapter "'Towards God religious, towards us most faithful': the Paulet family, the Somerset gentry and the early Tudor monarchy, 1485-1547" was published in Matthew Hefferan and Matthew Ward (eds), Loyalty to the Monarchy in Late Medieval and Early Modern Britain, c. 1400-1688 (London, 2020). Professionally, he has used his expertise to support students in higher education to enhance their writing and academic skills. He is particularly interested in peer-assisted learning (PAL), learning technologies, and learning and teaching theory and practice.


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