As you begin blogging, I want to step back from the technological discussion, and move towards a good-writing-and-good-thinking discussion. Blogging, as broad category and genre of writing, is largely informal, and engaged in ideas and facts from a variety of different sources. It’s provisional and ongoing.
What I have been putting up here isn’t necessarily “good blogging” in the sense that we’re going to work on this semester, since I have been using the blog primarily as a place to disseminate technical information. This, to be sure, is an important possibility for blogging. But it is not, in fact, what you all will be doing.
I have instead perhaps been modeling better the provisional nature of blogging: updating posts, continuing lines of thought, linking fulsomely between different posts. Perhaps that’s been frustrating for you, but that kind of writing-from-the-middle-of-something aspect is exactly the sort of discourse that I’m hoping for. Although instead of the logistics of replicating Blackboard (except not terrible), you’ll be trying to figure out what sort of thought you can have in relation to the problems and texts in the course.
A few bullet points on how to blog well:
• Good titles are descriptive. Lots of people are going to be tempted to use (or have already used) titles like “Blog Post #1” or “Her.” These are not really helpful for your readers. Consider the topics, questions, or arguments of the post. Can you tell your reader what’s coming? If I want to go back and find something you’ve written, will I be able to search for it by the title? Or will I turn up every other post from that week of the course/on that particular text or object?
• These are not communications between you and me. Partly, I think, uninformative titles tend to arise when the thing you’re writing feels like a formal course requirement, a communication that takes place in the weird vacuum of the student-and-professor relationship. But your blogging this semester is much more for your fellow students—the 27 or so other people in the class—than it is for me. You have an actual audience, and good writing of all kinds demands that you consider that audience, their expectations, the way that they will use the writing you compose, and so on.
• Blogs are used primarily to think with, in the moment. What I think that means is that you’re helping your colleagues have a thought or a question or a problem that you have—and then inviting them to respond. These responses can be, formally, either a blog post, a comment, or part of the in-class discussion. But the real ways of engaging look more like conceptual operations: restating the question in different terms, trying to answer the question, figuring out why that question might matter, figuring out what other questions or problems it intersects with, and so on.
• Blog posts should, then, invite more writing, more conversation, more thinking. You are not trying to prove to me how smart you are, or state your response categorically. Instead, writing on blogs should be part of, and should also attempt to give rise to, ongoing conversation. The clunky, only occasionally successful, but at least very explicit version of this is to ask explicitly what your readers think of things. (Often, on blogs on the open internet, you’ll see people try to engage their readers by asking things like, “What do you do with your [product x]?” or “Tell us in the comments about how much you love [product y].” I think this sort of direct questioning will go over better in the context of the class, since you have a well-defined audience (also a captive one). But such questions will only go over well when you’re genuinely engaged in, and writing from, a process of conversing, questioning, and thinking-from-the-hip.
• Engaging with others often means taking the conversation in different directions. When you “substantively engage” with another student’s post, one of the most important things you can do is to say “I had this question, too, but I had it in this different way.” Which is to say, you’re not merely piling on, “meeeee tooooo!” Nor are you simply starting off on another topic. Between these two poles, what you have is engagement, which almost always means moving the question in slightly different directions, into slightly different scenes of analysis, and with slightly different emphases.
• Emulate the best in other students’ posts. You are unlikely to be alone in having favorite posts and favorite sorts of posts from other students. Copy the writing and thinking style of these posts, especially in terms of the engagement with previous conversations. The kinds of engagement you find interesting, useful, positive from your students will almost certainly be the kinds of engagement that other students will also find interesting, useful, positive. Figure out what feels like it works well, engage in some process of analysis—asking what seems to be successful about these posts—and then do your best to copy it in your own posts.
I think that’s enough for now. I hope we will be engaging each other in conversations about what works well for the duration of the semester. I think the biggest take-home is that this sort of writing is for an audience, and so I’m hoping you can start early in the semester paying attention to writing well in public, for an audience.