What are the key skills involved in producing a good history blog story? At this time of year, especially with students increasingly trying their hand at writing blogs as part of their course assessments, there is often a lot of demand for guidance and advice concerning the production of good quality and eye-catching blogs about the past.
Here’s some brief ‘tried and tested’ things to bear in mind when seeking to make the past come alive through writing interesting and original blogs, tips which might be handy both for students and other authors i.e. people who are equally keen scholars of history and simply wish to write about some aspect of it.
Good Communication and ‘netiquette’: Communicating via a blog is arguably quite different from writing a more conventional essay or delivering an oral presentation to a live audience. On the other hand, however, there are certain things you should avoid in a blog in exactly the same way as when you pen any piece of history writing or deliver a speech or presentation to a seminar audience.
Poor ‘netiquette’ includes:
- Shouting at your readers/audience: do not type your blogs in CAPITAL letters or over-use capitalised words. It makes a blog writer sound ANGRY!
- Deliberate provocation or controversial statements: some blog writers are tempted to write in a deliberately provocative way or to make comments that border on the offensive in order to attract more attention. This is not a good approach to writing about the past.
- Blatant subjectivity: writing about the past in a blog should be approached with a cool head and in a (relatively) neutral way. You do not want to come across as a history ‘troll’! Just as you would (hopefully) strive to be as objective as possible (as far as is reasonably possible) in a conventional history essay, you should also seek to adopt the same approach in a history blog. You can still pursue or develop a core argument, of course (indeed, a good blog will often have one), but your views will carry more weight and authority if delivered in a professional and balanced way.
See Blogs as Part of Your History ‘Toolbox’: What is a blog? It is worth spending a few moments thinking about the actual nature of blogs and how they might relate to your wider and more familiar skills or ‘tools’ as a student of history.
Key things to remember include:
- The fact that the term ‘blog’ is a shortened version of the term ‘weblog’. Just as the internet itself started life in a public way from around the mid-1990s onwards, weblogs started life as ways of publishing key items of information online, in a way very similar to keeping a journal or writing a diary. While keeping journals or diaries was often a ‘private’ exercise for the writer in pre-internet days, it was often done with a view to eventually sharing that individual’s thoughts with a particular or public audience, either during the author’s lifetime or posthumously.
- In a sense, such ‘old-fashioned’ or traditional tools for recording information or sharing thoughts about the past have merely evolved into weblogs or ‘blogs’ in a more digital 21st century. Perhaps a key difference now is that, although you still have personal ownership of your posts, such tools are now very ‘public’ in nature: once placed on a blogsite, your blog-post has – potentially – a worldwide audience. This might feel a bit intimidating at first. Yet, a blog post is arguably another very handy (and exciting!) tool for you to express your individual thoughts or interpretations of the past to a wide range of other individuals who also share your love of history.
- History blogs can increase your critical engagement: writing a blog and having it placed on a blogsite can be very rewarding, in the sense that you can often see how other readers are reacting to your thoughts and views in a very speedy way, and sometimes one can gain invaluable feedback from other readers – such as pointers to new sources of information on your blog topic, or thoughts from others about how your perspective has helped them enhance their understanding and knowledge of past events or trends.
Practice Makes Perfect: Regular blogging can enhance your core writing skills, and help you to develop your own unique or distinctive ‘style’.
- Writing a blog about some aspect of history is not only pleasurable and satisfying – it can genuinely help you to improve your writing skills: blogging encourages you to think carefully about how to make your writing clear, concise and accessible.
- As you are writing for a very public audience, constructing a blog (in theory, anyway!) often encourages the blogger to proof-read their material carefully and double-check their grammar/syntax.
- It often helps you to avoid the temptation of ‘blinding’ a reader with too much terminology or dense language. As George Orwell would say, always keep your writing style simple and jargon-free if possible. The best history blogs often embody this.
- Blogs can help you to practice writing about history in a more ‘informal’ and relaxed way compared to the more formal style of academic essays or other pieces of writing. You can also experiment a bit more with structure and length, and adopt a more ‘work-in-progress’ approach to your history writing.
- As good historians, net journalists and other researchers will confirm, by writing a regular blog, you can test out new ideas, offer considered reflections on both the past and present, and (in a sense) store your thoughts and any associated references for future possible use. In this respect, the very process of producing blogs is dynamic and flexible – and very practical.
Writing blogs is not for everyone, of course, and can be quite challenging for some. Don’t worry – that’s fine: each unto their own! On the other hand, gaining some experience at writing a blog or two (or more) can genuinely enhance your overall skill-set as a historian, and this can be very attractive to a potential employer.
And in today’s digital and multi-platformed e-world, where employers need people who can communicate effectively with a diverse range of readers and audiences across the globe, that is well worth thinking about.
Steve Woodbridge is Lecturer in History at Kingston University