Recently I explored some of the features that should appear in a good history blog post, with some brief ‘tried and tested’ things that can make the past come alive in the present and also make your blog post stand out from the crowd.
At this time of year, especially with various students writing blog posts as part of their undergrad assessments, there is considerable interest in what constitutes a distinctive and interesting blog post. Here’s a few further thoughts on what to bear in mind when constructing and writing a blog post on a historical topic, arranged under ‘B.L.O.G.’
‘B’ – Being personal: In contrast to a conventional history essay written for an undergrad module, where the emphasis is on the importance of using third person and on the strong pursuit of objectivity, a blog post allows you to be more ‘personal’ and to use first person.
For a history student, this can be a bit of a shock and rather intimidating, and it can take quite a while to adapt to this very different form and style of writing. But don’t be afraid of taking the plunge: it can be surprisingly liberating! Don’t be shy of being personable in a blog post and friendly in tone, as long as you remain professional (a blog post, remember, is not the same as texting to a close friend).
Moreover, blog posts offer the exciting possibility of employing some visual images to support your writing. Ideally, no more than 2-3 should be used. And make sure the selected images are not there just for ‘decoration’ – they should be chosen to support or illustrate your thoughts and arguments.
‘L’ – Length of a post: In terms of structure and length, most bloggers from the world of academic history (and, indeed, more generally) will say that you should aim – ideally – for a post that is no more than 700-800 words in length: anything longer tends to lose the average blog post reader, simply because it can look too long and detailed on a blog page, and most internet users tend to ‘surf’ the net and what is on offer at some speed.
Blog posts can vary in length, of course, some being being longer than others. But if you write a longer one, it is very important to think carefully about the actual design and layout of the post. Adding some visual imagery becomes even more important here, and – if used sensibly – can aid the reader to easily navigate their way through the blog post.
Again, you are not writing an essay, but a shorter piece of writing, which should be punchy and engaging and not over-detailed. This is not ‘cheating’ or breaking the rules, but is merely an alternative way of expressing your interpretation of a topic from the past.
‘O’ – Opening a dialogue: Historians have increasingly recognised that writing blog posts can be a very useful additional tool (and skill!), and can help a writer or scholar open a debate or a dialogue with others about the past. Blogging can function as a very useful way to both store and communicate your ideas and interpretations about history. Indeed, think of a post as a great opportunity to start a real dialogue about your chosen topic with a much wider and more diverse audience.
As we noted in our previous post on history blogging, even though your blog post is personal and you have ‘ownership’ of it, in another sense a post is social in nature. If a post is crafted well, others out there on the internet will often respond to your enthusiasm and sometimes offer views in response to your interpretations or thoughts which can help stimulate debate, push knowledge forward, and (in some cases) even encourage you to re-think your own views and evidence. And that can be very healthy, and also fun!
‘G’ – Good angle: Think about how a good ‘angle’, argument or new perspective (perhaps even a new theory) about your chosen topic from the past can help throw fresh light on, or has relevance to, something that is happening today.
This is not as difficult or challenging as it might sound. We very much live in an information age – the local can be global and the global can be local; the past can shape the present and the present can contain the past. You only have to glance through breaking news stories, or keep an eye on big debates in contemporary affairs, to realise that ‘history’ is everywhere and informs just about everything that occurs or is said!
Individuals, citizens, writers, actors, politicians, activists, bloggers, students, scholars, etc will all regularly offer views on the present based on their personal interpretations of the past (whether it happened last century, last year, last week or even yesterday – it’s all history).
And you can do the same thing, in an informed and informative way. Go for it!
Steve Woodbridge is Lecturer in History at Kingston University