You mean, I have to write something too? Early lessons in research group blogging

Welcome, welcome. Come on in, let me show you around. It’s all rather shiny and new at the moment, our blog. Over here, we’ve got our lovely statisticians, Gary and Katie, helping the rest of us to try and understand tricky things like joint tests and correction for attenuation. Over there is the Prof giving us a glimpse into what he actually does with his day. Oh – and look – Yoryos got a great paper published on cancer diagnosis! He’s written all about it, but in a freer, looser way than the journal let him.

So here we all are, our research group, busy generating a happy rag tag of subjects for Our New Blog. Yes, yes, we are coming rather late to the academic blogging party. Interestingly, whilst lurking under the cover of a whole group makes some of us braver and happier to write blog posts, it also meant it took us longer to come around to the idea, as it needed to be negotiated and agreed between all of us. And perhaps we are in fact bang on trend – multi-author blogs are the way forward apparently, although sadly this one does not have a “proper editorial team”.

With just over twenty posts, at the moment we are right at the beginning of the learning curve. But why wait, I thought, to be full of years of wisdom before we posted about our experiences so far? Why not write about how it feels right here, at the beginning? So here, then, is what we have learnt to date. To be honest, only the first point is directly related to running a group rather than an individual blog, but I am hoping you will be kind, because we are Beginners, in case I hadn’t reminded you enough.

Group blogs are good because:

  1. It makes us work as a team. We may be a research group, but it doesn’t mean we all work together directly. Do you? With everyone? Having a group blog means having a shared project. This is a novelty and, so far, a Good Thing.
  2. It gives us a platform to present our work – and I do not mean just our academic work. For me, one of the great uses of the blog is as a tool to disseminate the skills and experience held within our group to a wider audience. Hence the importance of the posts on “statistics explained” or “top ten tips for postal surveys”. We’ve been there and done that: as publicly funded scientists, if we can use some of our time to make this knowledge public, this is also Good.
  3. It opens up conversations with others. OK, so at this stage our blog posts are usually read only by each other (though this is proving unexpectedly useful), but sometimes it seems someone out there in the great black void actually stumbles upon them too. And RESPONDS. Charlotte got real comments on her post on shared decision making. We are still celebrating.
  4. It offers us a different way of writing. As academics, we have to squeeze our messy data and analyses into such neat, disciplined little packets for the purposes of journal articles. How refreshing to throw off some of those constraints and write a more personal take on the work we have been doing. Ahhh, lovely.

However.

Group blogs are not such a good thing because:

  1. We constantly worry about the tone to take “because it is CCHSR”. Are we being too political? Have I got that right? Would everyone else agree? Big concerns all round.
  2. Someone has to be the nag: “Come on guys, who is going to write a blog post? It’s been four days since we posted! We need to look fresh and exciting! Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease?”

So, should you start a group blog? We’re probably wondering why we didn’t do it sooner (and Twitter, but that’s another story). But adopting a blogging culture within the group as a whole is a big shift, and we are still too early on to assess quite how the time and effort will repay itself. So we’ve given ourselves six months or so, and then we’ll assess things again, including probably looking more formally at the impact of taking this on. See you then?

More about academic blogging

Guardian Higher Education Network held a Live Chat on Academic Blogging back in October 2012

The Sociological Imagination post on why blogging is useful as a researcher, including loads of useful links

And the Networked Researcher for all things social media

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  • The Cambridge Centre for Health Services Research (CCHSR) is a thriving collaboration between the University of Cambridge and RAND Europe. We aim to inform health policy and practice by conducting research and evaluation studies of organisation and delivery of healthcare, including safety, effectiveness, efficiency and patient experience.