Image Credit: A blog can help draw more readers to your journal's website
Image Credit: A blog can help draw more readers to your journal's website

With more and more scholars turning to the web, rather than print publications, to conduct the bulk of their research your editorial team is likely looking for ways to improve your journal website’s discoverability and increase reader engagement. In the quest for ways to develop your journal’s online presence, have you considered starting a blog?

Keeping an active journal blog will ensure you always have fresh content on your website, which will improve your position in search engines, and a blog can generate greater online engagement and interest among new and returning readers. Blogging offers the opportunity to frequently post journal updates and digestible content about timely topics in your journal’s field, in addition to regular articles and issues, which scholars can share and discuss via social media or even in the comments section of your blog.

If you’re interested in getting a journal blog off the ground, talking to journals that have successfully launched a blog about their experience is a great place to start. We spoke with Anthony Grafton, executive editor of the Journal of the History of Ideas (JHI), and JHI blog editor John Raimo to learn how they set up and went about growing the JHI blog. Below are 5 steps JHI shared for starting a journal blog.

Image: JHI Blog

Have a blog focus in mind that ideally expands your reader base

Like your journal, you’ll want to clearly define the aims and scope of your blog both internally amongst your team and externally on your blog “About” page and in short descriptions. When choosing a blog theme, keep in mind that your blog can, and ideally should, be a place to draw in new readers to your journal that may not yet know about it or that may not realize your journal publishes content relevant to their field. For example, when the JHI team chose their blog theme they opted to focus on the interdisciplinary nature of the journal and also to cater some of their content towards early-career researchers.

“Our idea for the blog was to try to generate greater interest in the journal, particularly among early-career historians in graduate school and post-docs beginning to teach, as well as scholars working in other fields that our journal touches upon,” explained Grafton. “JHI is not only a historical journal, we cover topics in literature, philosophy and so on.”

JHI has been able to use it’s blog to show the broader connections between the research in its journal and research in other fields and to draw in scholars just learning about the publication.

Outline a content plan for your blog

Of course, you can’t have a blog without content! Before you even set up a place for your journal’s blog, whether you choose to host it on your website or via an external blogging platform, you’ll want to start outlining some content ideas. The JHI blog team recommends planning blog posts in advance to ensure you always have new content for your blog. Your editorial team should be ready to contribute some of the early blog posts, and you can also solicit posts from scholars in your journal’s field and submitting authors.

Some topics your journal may want to cover include:

  • Roundups of news in your journal’s field
  • Guest posts from authors writing about papers they published in your journal or their research in general
  • Guest posts from PhD students overviewing their thesis
  • Posts about conferences your journal’s editors attend

As you start planning out the first posts for your blog, it’s a good idea to begin compiling an editorial calendar. You can either do this in an online document or using a calendar tool like Google calendar. On your calendar map out the days you plan to post to the blog and topics for each day.

As your blog begins to gain attention among scholars in your journal’s field, you may also find that some are interested in contributing to it. You’ll want to have a plan in place for blog submissions.

“At the JHI blog we have a style sheet and a description of the kinds of pitches we look for,” said Raimo. “Once someone contacts us with a viable pitch we send them the style sheet and ask them to submit a post for consideration.”

Be sure to provide scholars with a way to suggest blog post topics and submit posts for consideration to your blog. The JHI blog includes a call for guest posts and a contact link.

Make your blog a team activity

Once your content calendar is in the works, seeing the amount of posts that need to go out may be a bit overwhelming at first, especially if one editor has been spearheading your new blog. Make sure that you split up blog work among multiple members of your team to spread out the workload. You may even want to look outside of your core editorial team for help.

The editors of JHI initially tried to run a blog themselves but realized it was too much for them to juggle journal work and managing the blog. As a result, they chose to enlist the help of undergraduate (now graduate) students in the journal’s field.

“A journal requires an editorial team. It seemed natural to me to build a blog in the same way,” said Grafton. “We opted to ask four students to help us run the blog and it turns out they couldn’t even do it without being tremendously engaged. Keeping a blog going with the high level of quality that they do is no easy task.”

When planning out your journal’s blog, be sure to be realistic about the amount of time your editors will have to spend on it. You don’t want to launch a blog and then never update it. If your team is too busy to devote your full attention to the blog (likely the case, given how busy editors are!), consider reaching out to students. Running a journal blog is a great way for students to get involved in a publication in their field. You’ll of course need to keep in mind timelines for such student availability and be on the lookout for new blog editors when your original editors are ready to transition in their careers.

Give your blog its own tone

One exciting aspect of setting up a journal blog is that it affords your journal the opportunity to publish research discussions that use a different tone than formal scholarly articles. Blog posts tend to be more concise, direct, and conversational in nature than formal articles, which makes for a nice dichotomy of content on your journal’s website.

“I think anything that can get people to write cleaner, livelier unclogged prose is a good thing, and that’s what the blog does,” said Grafton. “The blog is meant to serve a more mainstream audience, so it forces academics to write about their research in a way that can be understood by readers who are not necessarily experts in their field. That’s the whole point of the blog, to get people interested in something they don’t know. This is a skill all researchers can benefit from as we all need to take our work beyond academia.”

Particularly if you solicit articles from scholars or accept guest submissions, be sure to make it clear in your blog guidelines that blog content should be written for a wider audience and in a more colorful and dynamic way than journal articles.

Share your blog with scholars in your journal’s field

Once your blog is up it’s time to start sharing it with scholars in your journals field. If you have a journal email list be sure to alert them to the new blog. Share your blog via your journal’s social media channels and remind your editors to recommend the blog to their colleagues. As you promote your blog and keep adding content to it you’ll be sure to attract first-time readers from online searches as well.

For JHI their blog has resulted in an uptick in journal traffic and highly positive responses from the academic community.

“People come across our blog and say ‘this is just fantastic, where did you find these amazing students?’, which is a response we love to hear” said Grafton. “Everyone who’s come across the blog has been very enthusiastic. It’s been a great addition to the journal.”

Is your journal looking to launch a publication blog? What steps have you taken so far and what questions are you still considering? Let us know in the comments section or on Twitter by tweeting at @scholasticahq.

Danielle Padula
This post was written by Danielle Padula, Community Development
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