Over the years I have had hundreds of conversations with PhD students with blogging aspirations. Thus I started to recognize a few types of bloggers. Although most of them do not think about strategy, they often do fit into one of six types with different motivations, goals, audiences, and media. Let me briefly explain this classification. Ordering principle: from smallest to largest audience.
1 The reflector 💭
For this type of blogger, blogging is primarily a thinking tool. After years of studying the same topic, all its aspects seem equally important. Writing down their ideas in relative short posts intended for people with more distance to the topic, helps them to structure their thinking and separate essentials from trivialities. Although some bloggers are not interested in being read (they just write for themselves), responses by readers do provide the outsider’s perspective on their own research. To some this helps to reconnect with the real world inspiration behind their research. For this type of blogger the joy of writing and developing writing skills are important factors. This naturally comes with a more personal writing style. Vulnerability, doubt, self-mockery are allowed.
2 The teacher 👩🏫
Teachers often start blogging out of frustration. They are new to the field and discover that there are no good resources that help you get started. So they decide to start writing the their-field-for-dummies posts themselves. They write for the person they were one year ago, answering the questions they had then. It often results in a very technical blog. Including code. Their readers are highly motivated to understand the content, so longer posts and jargon are no issue. Next to their sharing their own learning curve, the questions they frequently receive or common mistakes they see others make are a good source of topics. Not seldomly the teacher’s posts originate as explanations they often email to their colleagues. The intellectual nature of their blogging brings a lot of both reflectors and teachers to Twitter.
3 The have to blogger 😠
Some researchers blog because they have to. Their group leader has started a group blog and asks junior researchers to contribute from time to time. Writing blog posts for the have to blogger is not always a joyful enterprise and they might miss intrinsic motivation. Often they don’t see the point of it and they find it very difficult to deviate from the formal academic writing style.
4 The personal brander 🤑
Personal branders are motivated by the establishment of their name as an expert. Their blog is primarily a networking tool. They have a clear idea on whom they want to reach. Most of them write for their international peers. Others aim at reaching professionals in e.g. industry or the public sector because that is where they hope to find their next job. Writing in the lingua franca of their community, which is mostly English, is a logical choise. They often have a website (with their name in the url), their online business card, which next to a blog contains professional portrait photo’s, project description, cv, publication list, etc. Due to the more corporate approach and the tendency to highlight their achievements LinkedIn is a go-to platform.
5 The instrumental blogger 🩺
To some blogging is part of their methodology. They need participants for their experiments or citizen scientists to help them with data collection. Their blog is a recruitment instrument but also a communication channel to stay in touch with their community. This community aspect makes Facebook a popular platform amongst these bloggers. Typically their blogposts explain the science behind their work or share the project’s results. Because the readers are non-experts that (unless living in an English speaking country) do not easily read English texts, the instrumental blogger has to leave the safety of writing in English about their research and needs to switch to e.g. Dutch. Usually they enjoy being in touch with their reader. They share a passion with their volunteers or they are engaged with the fate of their patients. To them blogging has not only the purpose of getting things done, it is also an expression of their wish to make the world a better place.
6 The science communicator 📹
The science communicator aims at audiences far from academia. They see it as their mission to explain science to the broader public, expose fake news, or push a certain issue. You might call these subtypes (or are they separate types?) translator, factchecker, and activist respectively. To some of this blogger type, blogging is a hobby next to their blooming academic career. Others (often the less hardcore researchers) discover that their true passion is science communication. To them blogging can be the first step on a road that leads to a career in science communication. It stands to reason that they choose to write in their mother tongue, which makes them write more fluently and often it is the language of their readers. The science communicator uses different types of media more often than the other types. You find them on YouTube, Instagram, or even TikTok.
Of course this taxonomy of blogging academics is oversimplifying things. You can behave most of the time like one type and occasionally switch to another. If you see blogging as a thinking tool, your blog will still contribute to your visibility in academia and might accidentally result in interactions with the broader public. I consider myself primarily an educator type of blogger. As in my courses, I share my ideas on science communication with my academic followers. At the same time, I do like it when my blog helps new customers to find my website. And, I use this blog to develop my thinking. Ideas originate in my classes, find their way to my blog and back to my classes again.