Sunday, 28 June 2009

Thoughts on blogging

This post is in reponse to a "Blogging Carnival" organised by my friend Karenne Sylvester, on the theme of "What advice would you give to a new blogger blogging in ELT". Find out more about Blogging Carnivals on Karenne's aard-winning blog, Kalinago English. You can see Karenne's eye in the 'followers' section of this blog - like the eye of Sauron in the high tower of Mordor, making sure I fulfil the mission I've been set and join in the carnival.

Today marks two whole weeks since I took the plunge, registered with Blogger and started this blog. It seems like a lot has happened since I hesitantly typed in the name of the blog, chose a design and a colour scheme, inserted pictures of my books down the side and posted my rather apologetic introduction. So what have I learnt in those two weeks?

First of all, I really enjoy blogging. As a writer, I’m much more comfortable expressing myself in writing than orally, and the idea that I can write whatever I like and some people care enough to want to read it is hugely flattering. (I also realise that many will take one look and never come back – fair enough). But that also creates a pressure I wasn’t expecting: to keep producing postings at a quality and quantity to satisfy the demands of eager readers. Very scary.

Secondly, time is a real issue. I could easily spend the whole day blogging, and still I wouldn’t get everything out of my system that I want to say. But, to borrow a phrase from Paul East when I asked for the
interview, I have mountains of ‘deadline stuff’, big writing and editing jobs to do by the middle of next week (or last week, or last month). To make matters worse, some of the people who are waiting for ‘deadline stuff’ from me have started reading this blog, so I can’t use the old excuse ‘I literally didn’t get 5 minutes near the computer all weekend’.

Thirdly, it’s amazing how quickly word spreads. I thought I’d have a couple of weeks at least to build up some content and play with the blog before anyone really became aware of it. But this experience has really brought home to me the phenomenal power of social networking. On the first Tuesday, I mentioned the blog casually on Facebook. My friend Nick then gave me a tweet on Twitter, and suddenly I had followers and comments. Unbelievable. I then updated my LinkedIn page last week, and sent a simple message to the BESIG group on LinkedIn. The next day I found two messages from Yahoo! groups I belong to:

First message, 22nd June, from
IATET (International Association of Technical English Trainers):
I've just just come across a new blog that I thought fellow list members might enjoy. It's by Jeremy Day, who some of you might know from CUP's ESP series. See: Cheers,Vicki Hollett

Wow! Vicki has been an absolute here of mine since I started teaching in 1996, when Business Opportunities and Business Objectives formed the core of my teaching (as they would for many years to come). Vicki must have seen the message about my blog on LinkedIn.

Second message, 22nd June, from EULETA (European Legal English Teachers’ Association):

Hi. Jeremy Day has a new blog that looks to be of great interest for teachers of English for Specific Purposes:

That one was from Matt Firth, another of my heroes. Matt has been involved in so many important legal English projects over the last few years that I think I’ll have to interview him very soon on this site. Matt must have seen my message on Facebook – we’ve been friends since we worked together on Introduction to International Legal English (see the image down the side of this blog).

Anyway, the point I’m making here is: don’t expect to retain any control over how word of your blog spreads, how fast and in which directions. There are probably all sorts of word-of-mouth chains going on that I’m completely unaware of. As a result of Vicki’s and Matt’s postings to IATET and EULETA, many hundreds of people have seen messages about my blog, if not the blog itself. All completely unprompted by me. Very cool but again very scary.

A fourth thing I’ve learnt – very practical for new bloggers – is to write postings in MS Word first. One reason is that it’s much easier to catch typos that way. (I keep finding typos in my earlier postings, and will probably spot some in this too as soon as it goes up, and again in four years, after the rest of the world has had a chance to laugh at my spelling mistakes!) There is a spellchecker in Blogger, but I keep forgetting to use it. But Word doesn’t even ask me – it checks automatically. (And I'll forgive my version of Word for not recognizing the words ‘blog’ and ‘blogger’ – it just shows (a) how fast things have developed and (b) how old my computer is.

A more important reason to write in word is that posts are added in the order you create them, not the order you post them. Last week I posted a long message about ‘
Google News for ESP Grammar’, which I’d been working on for over a week, off and on. Unfortunately, when it appeared, it was buried down among many older postings. So after all that work, probably no-one ever saw it! So if ever I half-finish a posting again, I’ll copy it to MS Word to finish it, delete the original draft message and create a new posting with the complete article. (In fact, I’ve just realised I could still do that with my grammar story, but now I’ve posted the link, I feel less bad about it wallowing in the ‘dead old stories’ section at the bottom of the page, also known as the archive.

The fifth lesson is simply that there’s loads more I can do with this blog (like learn how to embed videos), and gradually I’ll work through
Karenne’s advice on Alex Case’s blog, as well as the amazing tips on Nik Peachey’s blogs. But in fact you don’t really have to do lots of research and use all the cool techniques right at the beginning. It’s actually really easy to get started, surprisingly easy to get noticed, and amazingly easy to get hooked on blogging.


PS To see what I mean about being “much more comfortable expressing myself in writing than orally”, I present two links connected with this story. The first is my 10-second
interview by Karenne at last year’s BESIG conference, which is where I first met Karenne and was persuaded to join Facebook and the blogosphere. Karenne has been a huge inspiration and helping hand in my first weeks as a blogger.

The second link is to the videos at the
Virtual Round Table website, which is where I first met Vicki Hollett a few weeks ago, and spluttered out a rather gushing question (and still managed to dig myself into a hole by criticizing one of the teacher’s book). I recommend that you watch all the clips from the Vicki Hollett interview, not just my questions. I’ll talk more about the Virtual Round Table soon.


  1. Hey ya, ultra cool posting!

    You see now that I am following you I get alerted on your latest piece almost immediately!

    So, I have another top tip ;-) don't use MS Word to draft blog postings in because you will inevitably carry across invisible bits of code and then spend hours trying to figure out why bits of your postings don't look the way they should!

    Try Windows Live Writer (free downloadable software from Microsoft) which makes things very easy.

    Like Word (it even looks like Word) there are still coding issues but far fewer and once you're ready for some experimenting with photographs and adding videos has some very whizzy features and makes the whole blogging/ scheduling and drafting thing about 20 x faster and heaps more comfortable!


  2. Thanks Karenne - I wish I'd known that before! I've just spent the past half hour trying to sort out the mess I'd made of the html for this message, and I guess I made it worse ...

    So tip number seven: Keep it simple. At least until you know what you're doing!

    Sorry for comparing you with the source of all evil in Middle Earth.

  3. Great to see it's going so well! I've just given you another Tweet, so see if you get any more followers over the next couple of days.

    On that note, I've become a follower od this blog, and I assumed that meant I'd be sent an email when a new entry was posted. But it doesn't seem to work that way. Do you know if there's a way to get email alerts?

    Tons of great content here, Jeremy. I'm really enjoying it.



  4. Thanks, Nick. Glad you're enjoying it.

    I'm sure there is a way to get email alerts (try the settings section of your Google dashboard), but Karenne might be a better person to ask. She knows everything about everything! (And if you haven't met her yet, I'm sure you'll get on very well together!)