By Meagen Pollock, The College of Wooster

Blogs are essentially web pages that consist of updated multimedia posts, usually related by a theme. Blogs can serve as valuable sources of information and as forums for the open exchange of ideas.

How blogs enhance undergraduate research
A student works on different types of mobile computing devices to record her field experiences in a departmental blog. Photo courtesy of Meagen Pollock.

Resources - Many blogs highlight current events, share new data, or offer commentary on recent journal articles. Some blogs announce opportunities for funding and professional development. Read through the comments section at the end of each post to find supplementary information and links to related sites.

Communication - Successful blog experiences require effective communication between the author and the readers. For public blogs, authors develop the ability to convey scientific information to a general audience. Private blogs can be used to exchange ideas with collaborators or a select group of experts. In either scenario, authors learn to communicate through clearly written text and the effective use of illustrations and other media. Blogs also reflect the process of peer review in scientific discourse. A reader's comment may lead to a discussion thread and a follow-up post.

Connections - Most blog authors would agree that their posts reach a diverse audience. Collaborations can develop unexpectedly when experts read about another's scholarly work. Interested in recruiting research students? Summer programs and departments can advertise research opportunities. Students who may not consider research may read a blog that chronicles an undergraduate research experience and become inspired.

Where to start

Many institutions already support blogging platforms, so begin by contacting your information technology department. Alternatively, there are external blogging platforms that are freely available on the web, such as Blogger and WordPress. Decide how your blog will be used and adjust the privacy settings to make the site private or publicly available. Create and publish your first post. Respond to comments and post on a regular basis.

Determine authorship responsibility - Once the purpose of the blog is determined, decide who will be responsible for authoring posts and moderating comments. Blogs can be managed by individuals or by groups. A blog that describes recent departmental events might be best administered by multiple faculty while a blog that highlights topics in a specific field might be best authored by only one or two individuals. Provide guidance to student authors about your expectations for writing style and content.

Develop your "brand" -Blogging is most effective with a wide-ranging and interactive readership. Make sure readers know what to expect by selecting a theme and developing your blog's identity. Describe your purpose on an "about this blog" page. Advertise new posts on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. Update your blog regularly. Respond to comments and comment on related blogs. Write titles that are descriptive and tag your posts with keywords.

Manage your blog updates with an RSS reader - Rather than checking individual blogs for updates, save time by allowing the updates to come to you. Subscribe to a blog's RSS feed to view summaries of the latest posts or to follow conversations in the comments section. For a quick introduction to RSS, view the Common Craft RSS in Plain English video or see the 7 things you should know about RSS pamphlet from EDUCAUSE.

Know copyright law - Be sure to abide by fair use and copyright regulations when sharing content on the web. Consider licensing your work through Creative Commons.

Examples of geoscience blogs

Where to find more information