Blogging about books for ARJ: Tips on content, style, and structure for online book reviews
Welcome to the ARJ blog! The ARJ blog enables members of the AR community to communicate our ideas more informally and interactively, with the aim of promoting action research to a wider, more diverse readership. Our vision is to develop innovative, engaging, and openly accessible platforms for reflection on and discussion of the work published in ARJ and elsewhere.
The best academic blogs seek to engage and draw others into one’s own reflections and thought processes. Whether blogging about one’s own work, or reviewing another AR contribution, the point is to connect with others, create space for healthy, constructive dialogue, encourage reflection and collaboration, and bring new perspectives to one another’s inquiry practice.
There is no set formula for a good blog post, but we’ve put together some tips that should help you to attract and maintain your readers’ interest. It is likely that your posts will engage with a wider, more diverse, and to some extent, more ‘unknown’ audience than that which you’d expect for journal articles or traditional book reviews. Accessibility, interest, and readability are key.
An ARJ ‘book review’ blog post offers an enticing “taster” of the work being reviewed. Think about what others might consider most interesting or relevant. Are there particular anecdotes or insights from the publication—or indeed, news stories or public debates relevant to it– which will whet your readers’ appetite, and hook them into reading more? Try the following content tips:
· Stay relevant: emphasise some of the wider questions, issues, contexts and frameworks with which the work interacts.
· Be thought-provoking: highlight the author’s passion for their subject, and if you share in it, your own! Let the reader know why it’s worth caring and pondering about. Don’t be afraid to let your own voice shine through.
· Invite inquiry: begin to explore new ideas emerging from the book, or to draw out points ripe for further development or research.
· Encourage conversation: if you wish to open up a space for discussion about the book (and let’s face it, who doesn’t want to talk about their favourite book or latest read with others?), make sure to highlight key questions or points for debate. Encourage others to comment on your blog post and get in touch.
· Make links: both to your own and others’ work, especially that published in ARJ, to encourage new readers to stay and look around.
· ‘Gift’ your book review to the reader: if the book has been particularly helpful to you and to how your work has developed, and has given you invaluable insights, guidance, or challenge when you most needed it, say so! Help others to benefit from the ideas presented in the book, and encourage them to consider how it may support them in their own inquiries.
At ARJ, we like the following style and structure tips, adapted from Charlotte Mathiesen (2012):
· Vocabulary. Technical terms should be avoided if possible, and need definition where necessary.
· Tone. Finding your own voice can take time, and it’s a personal matter how informal or chatty you want to be. First-person is recommended, and an easy way to give your blog post personality. A good tip is to talk about the book as you would in conversation.
· Write concisely. Consider how long you can maintain a reader’s interest for. Blog posts vary in length, as the examples listed at the end show, but by all means feel free to keep your posts for ARJ short and sweet.
· References. Best kept to a minimum, if used at all. Linking to external sources (via web hyperlinks) is a less intrusive way of referencing.
· Begin with the most interesting content: a burning question that the book is posing, or a crucial debate with which it’s engaging. Don’t save the best for last - your reader might not get there! Make clear the book’s stance – and its value and appeal – early on.
· Break up the content: consider the visual readability on a web page. Short paragraphs are easier to follow on the page and ensure you stay focused on the topic.
· Shorter sentences help maintain clarity, and posing questions encourages reader engagement. If you can’t stop yourself waxing lyrical about the book you are reviewing, and find yourself running vastly over-length, consider using a series of related posts organised around a small number of themes: use tags and links to maintain the continuity.
· Use pictures, video and audio media to maintain interest. As well as giving us your intellectual and practical take on the book you are reviewing, allow yourself to express the emotional and aesthetic responses the book inspires in you. If the book evokes specific images, bits of artwork, or other aspects of human creativity, physicality, and experience, play around with ways of representing these. Richard Miller’s is a great example of how innovative blogging can be.
Note that we are delighted for the ARJ blog to host multi-media posts, so do feel free to experiment and be as creative as you like!
And finally, some examples of ‘academic blogging’ to get you going…
Just a small selection of academic blog posts to get you going. Some adopt a casual, witty style; others make great use of images and diagrams; still others make compelling links with news stories, pop culture, and polemical debates. Some are more concise than others, and some are more explicit about presenting or reflecting on a specific piece of research. Still others use the opportunity to tell engaging stories which bring together research-relevant themes and concepts.
We’ve found that one of the best ways to learn is to look at other blogs and decide what works best for you and for your research. Have fun!
1. A book review by Emen William Garcia, for the PolicyMic web forum (worth checking out!).
· “Liberal democracy yields public stupidity: Defending Politics Book Review” http://www.policymic.com/articles/15941/liberal-democracy-yields-public-stupidity-defending-politics-book-review#
2. A couple of examples of Dr Ann Rippin’s (University of Bristol) blog on academic quilting:
· “Collections, collecting, and unexpected encounters” http://annjrippin.wordpress.com/2012/08/02/collections-collecting-and-unexpected-encounters/
· “Just so you know” http://annjrippin.wordpress.com/2012/07/10/just-so-you-know/
3. One previously published on the ARJ blog, from our very own Associate Editor, Victor Friedman. This post coincided with the publication of the ARJ Special Issue on Art and Action Research, which Victor co-edited:
4. A post by Prof Ingrid Piller, of Macquarie University, Sydney, posted on the blog Language on the Move:
· “Illegitimate English” http://www.languageonthemove.com/language-globalization/illegitimate-english?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=illegitimate-english
For many more examples of blogs specifically presenting peer-reviewed academic research, see the directory: http://www.researchblogging.org/