Thursday, January 10, 2013

Why do we blog?

Image by Cortega9
Good question. Of course I posed it, but I stand by it, mostly because I wrestle so much with it.

I once taught a course on public relations writing, and one of the principle components was writing for the Web, particularly in the form of blogs. I devised the following set of rules for blogging after reading up on the subject in my free time:

  1. Maintain a defined focus with your blog topics
  2. Maintain some semblance of a schedule with your posts
  3. Use sans-serif fonts (they're easier to read on backlit screens)
  4. Keep paragraphs short
  5. Keep posts under 500 words
  6. Link to relevant information
  7. Foster interactivity
  8. Understand the relatively casual nature of the medium
  9. Engage your audience
  10. NEVER forget to whom you are writing (See how I used proper grammar with the "whom" to avoid ending a sentence in a preposition? My audience is educated. Plus I don't want to look like I ain't never learned nothing. That would be plumb stupid of me.)
Pretty good list if I do say so myself; though of course, I made it. But the reason why I made it was because I was teaching students to blog for organizations in order to attain organizational goals. I never considered that type of writing to be a personally fulfilling exercise, but rather one of professional development.

But aspiring to career goals is only one of many reasons to blog. For instance, I maintain my own personal blog simply for pleasure, which I have shamelessly plugged using several hyperlinks in this sentence. Seriously, you shoould check out my blog.

Thinking about it, though, I use the word "maintain" incredibly loosely. In fact, I follow few of the rules I taught my students: my posts are long, my themes are often disjointed, my posting schedule is erratic -- even my font choice is poor.

Why is my blog so bad?

Well, it's not. The formatting issues are independently atrocious, but they exist because I always follow rule number 10: never forget your audience. 

The audience for my blog is me. I've only had 4,500 page views over 5 years. I'm shouting into the void and listening for the echo, but I'm okay with that.

My blog helps me articulate my thoughts to hold onto a sliver of sanity. And since I write for me, I remember my audience: I don't mind writing that is long-winded, I don't mind that the focus is as scattered as my thoughts, I don't care about a schedule, and I think Georgia is a beautiful font and that serifs are awesome.

So how does this relate to teaching? It does so because it relates to learning. Sometimes we approach a learning opportunity with clear goals in mind for how we will use the knowledge we acquire. These endeavors are purposeful, directed, and pragmatic. Oftentimes, however, we learn about something simply because it interests us and we have no idea how -- or even if -- we will use that knowledge.

In my professional or personal life, I doubt my knowledge of the key differences between Keynesian and neoclassical economics is going the be of much help. I doubt much that I learned from Ken Burns' documentary on the Civil War will come up in a communication classroom, though I dedicated over 11 hours to watching it and found it incredibly fascinating. I'm certain that knowing the history of telephone area codes and their developments is utterly useless.

Still, I like knowing all of these things. I liked learning all of these things. And even though I have little practical use for this knowledge, I think it -- like learning -- can be important for its own sake. As teachers, that's something we should not only remember, but remind our students of.

...And that they shouldn't end blog posts with prepositions.

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