Academic Blogging Toolbox

Welcome to the Academic Blogging Toolbox – it is our aim to create the most useful and comprehensive list of tools and resources available on how to start an academic blog, grow it, and ultimately use it to increase and demonstrate impact, help educate the public, grow citations, and get more attention for your research.

Choose from the options below depending on what you need the most help with right now, and find out about the tools available to support your blogging and make your life that little bit easier.

 
Contents

Setting up an academic blog
Writing about research
Managing academic blogging
Developing conversations
Promoting and distributing your academic content
Staying up to date
Improving research and tracking impact
Examples of academic blogs
Useful articles, resources and websites
Feedback, changes and disclaimer

 

 
Setting up an academic blog

Getting up and running is arguably the hardest step to take, but all you really need in order to start an academic blog is a hosting package, a domain name and the right software.

Internal hosting – many organisations provide a hosting environment for staff blogs (see for example the University of Chicago’s academic blogging platform and the University of Northampton’s MyPAD tool) so this might be a good place to start. However, think carefully whether this is the right choice for your work long term; what will you do if you move jobs? How will you communicate work involving other organisations or roles you have? What if you one day wish to take on consulting or other external work that cannot be communicated on an internally-hosted website? It might also be possible to begin with a simple website hosted internally and then branch out when you’re ready.

External hosting – There are many hosting packages and companies available, here’s a small selection of potential providers:

  • BlueHost – hosting comes with a free domain name and very simple WordPress (see below) installation.
  • ​JustHost – affordable web hosting, also with easy WordPress installation.
  • ​Go-Daddy – cost-effective website hosting.

Domain names – if you need a domain name for any website, the world’s largest registrar is ​GoDaddy. You can select all sorts of options and variants for your website address, and there are also business email and other options available.

Blogging software – while there are a number of different platforms available, WordPress is arguably the best around. WordPress is intuitive, fast, optimised for the modern web and benefits from endless customisation, extended functionality and third party tools developed by an enormous and very active global user community. It has been named as the most popular content management system in the world (source) and is highly recommended for running a blog of any size.

WordPress also runs a very comprehensive and user-friendly website for all aspects of tech support, from a basic introduction to blogging to more advanced issues. Or if you’re feeling a bit lost you could always get:
 

WordPress For Dummies – Once you have WordPress set up, this book can help you really start to thrive!

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Writing about research

As you know, academic blog writing is not the same as journal article writing, grant writing or teaching. This list of useful books and resources provide help and guidance on how to write to an academic and non-academic audience (a number of the books refer to science communication, but many of the principles and concepts can be translated to the dissemination of research in other fields):
 

Marketing for Scientists: How to Shine in Tough Times – How to apply marketing advice and concepts to a scientific career.

Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.ca | Amazon.de
 

Am I Making Myself Clear?: A Scientist’s Guide to Talking to the Public – How to speak to the public, policy-makers and the media.

Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.ca | Amazon.de
 

Houston, We Have a Narrative: Why Science Needs Story – The importance and use of narrative in communicating research.

Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.ca | Amazon.de
 

Science Communication: A Practical Guide for Scientists – A detailed guide on how to communicate science.

Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.ca | Amazon.de
 

A Scientist’s Guide To Talking With The Media – Guidance on engaging with people in the media in order to promote research.

Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.ca | Amazon.de
 

Escape from the Ivory Tower – A guide on how to better explain to different audiences why your research matters.

Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.ca | Amazon.de
 

The Research Impact Handbook – Straightforward, evidence-based advice on achieving research impact.

Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.ca | Amazon.de
 

Creative Research Communication – The theory and practice of communicating research.

Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.ca | Amazon.de
 

Successful Science Communication: Telling It Like It Is – How to better speak to the public about science.

Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.ca | Amazon.de
 

​Hemingway Editor – this popular tool helps writers to create text that is clearer and more forceful. Simply copy and paste text in to the free web-based app, and use it to analyse the readability using a number of different metrics.

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Managing academic blogging

Metrics and tracking – tracking the traffic sources, behaviour and basic demographics of your blog’s readers is easy (and free) with Google Analytics. Simply add a small piece of tracking code to your site and you’ll start collecting statistics immediately.

There are also a range of free WordPress plugins that can be used to easily add Google Analytics to your site, and that provide a bit more functionality to use with it.

In addition, if search traffic is an important part of spreading the word about your work, then Google’s Search Console is also a very useful system that will give you some basic data on the “keywords” people are using when they find your blog.

References – If you need to manage references and incorporate citations into your blogging, then the Academic Blogger’s Toolkit WordPress plugin can make the process much easier to manage. The plugin makes it easy to import, arrange and display citations in blog posts in a number of different ways; such as by importing from reference managers or PubMed, and by using PMIDs and DOIs.

Editorial calendar – A basic editorial calendar helps keep any blog on track by ensuring enough time and focus is dedicated to posts on different topics. It also acts as the basis of a workflow for collaborating with other people. A publishing calendar can be managed in a simple spreadsheet, or via an online service such as Google calendar (which requires a Google account). Specialist blogging production calendar tools such as CoSchedule have also been developed, as well as the free WordPress plugin Edit Flow which is designed for collaboration.

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Developing conversations

A blog is an opportunity to facilitate a genuine two-way conversation with the target audience of your research – the people who you need to convince to take action in order to generate impact. In order to encourage and enable such conversations there are a variety of online communication channels available. Below, an overview of such channels and tools for doing more with them are included:

Social media – one of the easiest methods of starting to interact with a target audience is to use social media. Social media is a broad term used to refer to a number of channels of varying uses, levels of interactivity and so on; here are a number of the most popular platforms:

Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, SlideShare, Google+, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, YouTube, and Vimeo.

If you need some advice on how to make the most of social media, try the following guides:

Social Media for Academics – Practical guidance on using social channels.

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Social Media in Academia – A thorough discussion of the use of social media by academics.

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Here are some useful websites to stay up to date with the latest news, thinking and research in social media: Social Media Examiner, Social Media Today and SocialTimes.

Mark Kuchner also has a great post on using Facebook on marketingforscientists.com.

Email – Despite the profusion of different social media channels, email is still regarded as the best place in which to engage with an audience and have genuine conversations (research sources: #1 #2 #3). Here are some useful tools to take your conversations off your site and into the inbox:

  • MailChimp – a highly intuitive and well-designed mailing list option with limited free use.
  • ​AWeber – a very popular email marketing service. AWeber offers a free course that includes various email templates for you to adapt and use.
  • ConvertKit – a more powerful platform for those with larger blogs.

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Promoting and distributing your academic content

If you are happy with the content and management of your blog, and have put some thought into how to facilitate conversations with your target audience, the next thing to consider is how to attract that audience in the first place. Using social media, explored in the previous section, is a great means of getting the word out but there are other techniques you might want to explore, and here are a few tools and resources to help:

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) – SEO is a large and complex topic, but essentially it is the practice of optimising specific pieces of content for target “keywords” (which can be single words or multi-word phrases), and building links to them, so that when people type them in to search engines, your content shows up near the top of the results. The Google Keyword Planner Tool provides useful data to help select specific keywords. Alternatives to the Google tool include KeywordTool.io, SEO Book and Wordtracker.

​Google Trends – Another free tool from Google, Trends enables you to compare the relative number of recent searchers of two or more different keywords. It can be used to find out how people are referring to specific things in your field for example, which can help you choose better keywords.

The Yoast SEO for WordPress plugin – if using WordPress, a great way to optimise individual posts and pages is the free SEO for WordPress plugin. It provides guidance on how to edit pages and posts to boost their SEO potential while drafting them, along with other features that will help create better content.

Content reuse – once a blog post is written and published it doesn’t have to die an archive-related death; instead reuse the text, images and ideas on other platforms and in other channels. Blog posts can be reworked for or republished on (along with a link explaining “First published on XXX”) platforms such as Medium, Quora (on which you can also answer specialist questions and share relevant links to your content as part of the answer), or on LinkedIn, where they will be linked directly to your professional profile. Blog posts can also be turned into a presentation and published on SlideShare too.

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Staying up to date

Keeping abreast of fast moving research fields isn’t easy. But as a professional academic dedicated to sharing your knowledge, it is important to try and stay up to date with some of the academic publishing and media coverage of your field, particularly if your own work or content is referred to. Here are a number of tools that can be put to work for you:

Monitor keywords – the free Google alerts tool enables monitoring of specific keywords used on the web. Simply access it with a Google account and select some keywords to track (such as your name, your project or research group’s name and/or key terms relevant to your research) and you’ll get emails whenever new pieces of content that contain those words are indexed in Google (which is usually not long after they are published online).

Monitor publications – in a similar way to Google Alerts, it is possible to monitor and track different aspects of scholarly publications noted by Google (e.g. follow a particular author, keywords in an article title etc.) using Google Scholar Alerts. Alternative tools for searching for papers include OAfindr, Scopus, ​PubGet and CiteSeerX.

In addition, here’s an excellent post from Jisc featuring 10 scholarly search engines that go beyond Google.

To find scholarly blog posts on a specific topic, try the ACI Scholarly Blog Index tool which is part of a wider suite of tools and services for academic bloggers.

Stay up to date with websites – a very useful tool for following other blogs and websites that publish regularly is the free RSS reader ​Feedly.

Stay up to date with social media – there are a number of social media management tools available to help monitor different social channels. Two of the best known are TweetDeck and Hootsuite.

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Improving research and tracking impact

A blog’s usefulness doesn’t have to stop at promoting research. A carefully planned academic blog can form part of an over-arching strategy for making the most of research activities and tracking their impact. The following tools and resources might just be able to help:

The ​Connected Researcher – An extensive list of digital tools for researchers, featuring tools to help with everything from collecting data, to enabling better grant writing, to evaluating peer-reviewed research. Collated by Dr. Thomas Crouzier.

The Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) Toolkit – a comprehensive collection of 400+ resources for research and innovation.

being-a-scholar-in-the-digita-era_growresaBeing a Scholar in the Digital Era – How digital tools and practices are changing academic research.

 

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To track the discussions around and references to academic content Altmetric has a variety of tools and products such as the Altmetric bookmarklet which lets you see how often, and where, a paper has been shared online directly from your browser.

Another tool for tracking online coverage is Impactstory. Their page on the data used is very useful, as is a free ebook, The 30-Day Impact Challenge.

MyScienceWork – a global platform, and associated suite of technology solutions, for promoting and sharing research.

Editage provides a range of services designed to help train and support researchers at every stage of the publication process. The organisation’s blog Editage Insights also features a range of useful advice and resources such as:

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Examples of academic blogs

In this section are a range of links to help you learn about academic blog writing and management by example. Here are a few selected sites from today’s academic blogosphere:

The Academic Blog Portal on the academic blogs wiki contains links to dozens of academic blogs in a number of fields.

The Guardian’s higher education blogs network provides a broader range of blogs mainly focused on higher education and research issues in the UK.

Nature.com blogs feature a number of blogs and articles from various scientific-related fields and writers.

Research Blogging has a constantly updated list of posts from a number of academics writing about peer reviewed research.

The Thesis Whisperer also has a large list of blogs started by PhD students.

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Useful articles, resources and websites

In this section is a list of links to information on academic and scholarly blogging that you might find useful.

​Illustrated Blogging Advice for Researchers – an excellent collection of advice from a wide range of bloggers enhanced by some really good illustrations.

The LSE Impact Blog – a very high quality resource to learn about how different communication strategies and tactics, including blogging, can be used to maximise the impact of research.

​Research on academic blogging: what does it reveal? – A very comprehensive collection of research on blogging by academics.

The value of blogging – an interesting post on why academics should take up blogging.

Hypotheses – a publication platform for academic blogs run by the Centre for Open Electronic Publishing (Cléo, France).

 
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Feedback, changes and disclaimer

Add your favourite tool

Add your favourite tool, book, resource or website, or feedback (let us know if anything is broken, missing or inaccurate, and we’ll fix it as soon as we can) on any of the contents of this list below:


 

Get notified of any changes

To stay up to date, join the Growresa email list and we’ll let you know if there are any updates to the Academic Blogging Toolbox or when related content is published (you’ll also get our free guide: How to Build an Online Audience for Research featuring exclusive advice, tips, techniques and tool recommendations from nine experts in the field):

 

Disclaimer

We take no responsibility for the content of external sites. The list is kept as current as possible but we cannot accept any liability if any links are broken or out of date. These links are our decision only but their inclusion does not imply an endorsement or recommendation of any kind. Please note that some of the links on this page are “affiliate links” – if a purchase is made using these links Growresa will earn a small commission without the purchaser paying anything extra. A percentage of any such earnings is lent by Growresa on the microfinancing platform Kiva.org, on a non-profit basis, to entrepreneurs in the developing world.

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