How to write a blog post

1. Readability

1.1. Don’t put whole words or sentences in all capitals

Use capital letters at the beginning of a new sentence and a new item. Also at the beginning of a new item in a list. Do not write whole words or sentences in capital letters. It looks as though you are shouting and is more difficult to read.

Don’t write:

AREAS OF INTEREST

  • economics & management
  • IT & multimedia
  • art
  • health
Do write:

Areas of interest

  • Economics & management
  • IT & multimedia
  • Art
  • Health

1.2. Avoid text in italics

Text in italics slows down the reading speed on a screen. Use italics only for publication titles.
For quotes, use single inverted commas.

Don’t write:
Jim Cavaletti, EUI: This competition enables us to find out unusual ways of making our staff aware of the importance of healthy eating.

Do write:
Jim Cavaletti, EUI: ‘This competition enables us to find out unusual ways of making our staff aware of the importance of healthy eating.’

1.3. Align text left and leave the right-hand margin ragged

Left-aligned text is the quickest to read on a screen. Always align text left.
The only exception: figures in columns. These are best aligned right for optimum readability.
When you justify text, you get irregular spaces between the words. That slows down the reading speed. So always leave the right-hand margin ragged.

Don’t write:

When you justify text, you get irregular spaces between the words. That slows down the reading speed. So always leave the right-hand margin ragged.

Do write:
When you justify text, you get irregular spaces between the words. That slows down the reading speed. So always leave the right-hand margin ragged.

2. Content structure

2.1. Inverted pyramid

Get straight to the point. There is no time for introductions on the web. Get out the most important information as early as possible.
If you can include your most important information in the heading, do so.

2.2. Headings

Clear, informative headings are vitally important. Both for permanent pages and for news items.

Make headings informative

The main task of a heading is to provide information. A heading should make it clear what a section, page or article is about. Provide as much practical information as possible.

Don’t write:
New research about women in IT

Do write:
Women in IT still vastly outnumbered

Keep headings short

Short headings are easier to scan than long ones. Stick to the essentials: what is the core of this page or article? Use telegram style to keep headings short: leave out prepositions and articles.

Don’t write:
Open Day at EUI: a large influx of visitors attend this first event

Do write:
1st EUI Open Day huge success

Put the most important word first

When scanning a heading, the reader mainly sees the first 11 characters. So put the most meaningful words as early as possible in the headline.

Don’t write:
Historic number of fellowships awarded at EUI

Do write:
More fellowships than ever at EUI

Use the keyword in your headline

Search engines attach high importance to headers: always use your key word in your page header or headline.
When you first meet someone, your first impression is quintessential. So is your page title or headline.
People will form an idea of the content of your article in just a few seconds. And they’ll make the decision to keep on reading or not at lightning speed, based on your title and first sentence.
The title is also the first text someone will see if it’s shared on social media:

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So take your time to think about a good title for each article.
5 characteristics of powerful titles:

  • Include the keyword
    If you want people to find you on Google, you need to include the keyword in your page heading.
  • Provide information
    Your title should describe what your article is about.
  • Be clear and to-the-point
    Avoid wordplay, little known abbreviations and difficult words.
  • Questions with what, where, when, how, why
    Questions work because they make your readers curious.
  • Use listicles
    15 ways to …, 5 reasons for …, 6 questions about …, etc.

2.3. Write a strong summary or description

Your blog post summary will appear in lots of important places. It will be shown on the overview page of the blog and on the search results pages of Google.

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If you share an article via social media, your summary will be used for that as well.

Be sure to use your keyword in the summary if you want the search engines to use your summary in the search results.

Keep your summary short: Google shows only the first 160 characters of the summary. After that, it simply adds an ellipsis (…). If you want to play it safe, don’t use more than 155 characters. And don’t forget: spaces and punctuation marks count as characters too.

Your summary should provide information about the content of your article. At the same time, it should spark curiosity and motivate readers to click and read the full article.

2.4. Teaser/First paragraph

A teaser or intro is a short sentence, or pair of sentences that gives a brief explanation about the page the heading refers to. Intros are used for homepages, summary pages and search result pages.

The first paragraph of your page serves the same purpose as the teaser: making it clear what a page is about.

Give information

The most important information for the whole page should be in the first paragraph. This is the information you definitely want people to read.

What this information is exactly depends on the type of text.

News, events

Answer the 5 W’s:

  • Who?
  • What?
  • Where?
  • When?
  • Why?

Information pages
Short summary of the main information.

Services, products
Description of the service or product, price, benefits for the reader.

2.5. Prompt people to keep reading

If you want people to read more than just the heading and the intro, end your intro with a question. It’ll make readers curious.

Don’t write:

Open Day at Robert Schuman Centre
The Robert Schuman Centre at the European University Institute is having an Open Day on 2nd March 2013 to introduce anyone interested to the faculty.

Do write:

Open Day at Robert Schuman Centre
On 2nd March 2015, the Robert Schuman Centre at the European University Institute is holding an information day for anyone interested. Doors open at 2.30 pm. Will you join us?

2.6. Rest of the text

Your first paragraph is not the only thing that’s important. You also need to structure the rest of the text clearly.

1 idea per paragraph

Don’t overload your reader with too much information at the same time. Introduce only 1 new idea in each paragraph.

People remember text better if you put new information into a new paragraph. It reads more smoothly, too.

2.7. Make your point in the first sentence of the paragraph

Put the most meaningful word of the paragraph as early as possible in the first sentence. The first sentence of each paragraph stands out most when scanning the text.

Don’t write:

The EUI is aware that donating blood is important and is opening its doors to the Red Cross. Please come and give blood on 4th and 5th March in the Badia. Donations will help to ensure that the Red Cross blood bank has the blood it requires. By giving blood you are helping to save people’s lives.

Do write:
Come and donate blood to save people’s lives. 4th and 5th March in the Badia. That way you can help make sure the Red Cross blood bank has the blood it needs.

3. Visual structure

A good structure reinforces the message of your text. Sub-headings and paragraphs are an essential component of your structure.

Use h2 and h3 sub-headings with clear information about the content of the paragraph. That way, readers who only read the sub-headings can have an idea of what the paragraphs are about.

Give your scanning readers a helping hand. Visual clues tell them what is important and what they should read first.

Most readers will read information that seems important first, such as words in bold, bulleted lists, paragraphs, titles and sub headings in larger fonts.

Likewise, they’ll read your titles, opening sentence and conclusion before reading the rest of the article.

3.1. Keep paragraphs short (max. 3 sentences)

Keep your paragraphs to a maximum of 3 sentences. Or even shorter. Nobody likes to read long, complex sentences or paragraphs. More often than not, they create confusion and slow down the reading speed.

A paragraph of 1 sentence is perfectly acceptable. Avoid paragraphs of more than 3 sentences.

If a longer paragraph is unavoidable, make sure the one before and the one after are nice and short.

3.2. Leave white space between paragraphs

White space between paragraphs makes the text look neatly laid out. A great solid block of text is really not inviting.

Make sure there is enough white space between paragraphs.

3.3. Short pages: clear subheads

On shorter pages, subheads help readers to see quickly what the text is about. Or which paragraph is most interesting for them.

All of the rules for headings (informative, short, etc.) also apply to subheads.

3.4. Longer pages: anchor links

On longer pages, where not all of the subheads are visible without the reader having to scroll down to see them, you can put the subheads at the top of the page as clickable anchor links. That gives readers an overview of everything there is on the page. So they can click on the subhead that interests them the most.

Pages with Frequently Asked Questions are usually structured with anchor links, but they can also be handy for other pages.

3.5. Important words in bold

If you want to emphasise certain words or phrases in your text, put them in bold type.

Limit the number of words or groups of words you put in bold in each paragraph or list to 1 or a maximum of 2. If you put too much text in bold, it doesn’t stand out anymore.

3.6. Keep sentences short (max. 10 words)

Long sentences are difficult for the reader to scan and remember.

Limit sentences to a maximum of 10 words, but don’t write all staccato-like sentences. Alternate shorter and longer sentences to create rhythm and natural flow in your text.

A sentence does not always have to contain a verb.

Can you write a sentence that has just 1 word? Absolutely.

Don’t write:
Your login and password will expire next week so be sure to renew them in time.

Do write:
Your login and password will expire soon. Renew them before 5 December 2015.

3.7. Use bullet lists

Want to list 3 or more things? Use a list with bullet points instead of a complete sentence with commas.

Lists are neatly laid out, straightforward to scan and easy to remember.

Basic rules for a good list:

  • Don’t forget the bullet points
  • Begin each item with a capital letter
  • Order the list logically
  • Lists of words or groups of words: no punctuation
  • Lists of sentences: full stop after each sentence

Don’t write:
The main research themes of the Robert Schuman Centre are Integration, Governance and Democracy, Regulating Markets and Governing Money and 21st Century World Politics and Europe.

Do write:
The main research themes of the Robert Schuman Centre are:

  • Integration, Governance and Democracy
  • Regulating Markets and Governing Money
  • 21st Century World Politics and Europe

4. Keep it simple

4.1. Know what you want to communicate

Each page should have a purpose. What do you want to achieve with your page? Every sentence that you write should contribute to that goal.

Writing for writing’s sake is not a good idea.

Who are you writing for? Researchers? Members of staff? Ask yourself what they already know about the subject and what they want to know about it.

4.2. Trim the fat

Readers want information that’s clear. And they want it fast.

Don’t waste their time with lengthy introductions. And don’t lose yourself in details.

Get immediately to the point and stick to what’s essential.

Don’t write:
New cases of mumps are being reported among researchers. The disease is transmitted by air or saliva and has an incubation period of 14 to 21 days. Clinically, the most obvious symptom is parotitis, with swelling of the major salivary gland. This can cause the jaw to swell. Eating and swallowing are painful. We would ask researchers who have mumps not to come to the institute.

Do write:
Got mumps? Stay home. You could infect others.

4.3. Write like you speak

Write like you’re talking to someone you don’t know. Be polite and correct, but not stiff or solemn.

Don’t overestimate your readers. But don’t talk down to them, either.

Read your text out loud when it’s finished. Would you say it like that to someone over the phone or someone standing at your desk? If so, then it’s a good web text. If not, try again.

Don’t write:
Our range of courses is very extensive and demonstrates a significantly high standard.

Do write:
We have a wide range of top-quality courses.

4.4. Use simple grammatical constructions

Keep your writing straightforward. Avoid complex grammatical constructions.

4.5. Address the reader correctly

Address the reader directly as much as possible. Assume the person who’s reading the page is the person you’re writing for.

Don’t write:
The Max Weber Programme offers Fellows the unique opportunity to share their research experience with peers from different disciplines and nationalities on a daily basis. The Programme not only supports their research but also helps them develop the skills they will need in their future academic careers.

Do write:
The Max Weber Programme offers you the unique opportunity to share your research experience with peers from different disciplines and nationalities on a daily basis. The Programme not only supports your research but also helps you develop the skills you will need in your future academic career.

4.6. Don’t be afraid to use ‘we’

Are you writing in the name of the European University Institute or your department, centre or service? Use either the name of the institute, department, centre or service or ‘we’.

Don’t write:
What services does the Institute offer researchers?

Do write:
What services do we offer researchers?

4.7. Use the active voice

Allow verbs to drive the action forward. Active sentence constructions read more smoothly.

They also make a much more dynamic impression than passive sentence constructions.

Don’t write:
The brochure will be sent to you within 5 working days.

Do write:
We will send you the brochure within 5 working days.

Passive constructions are often less concise and more impersonal, because there is no subject.

Try to use passives only when the subject (= agent) of a clause or sentence is:

  • Not known
  • Not as important as the object
  • Not a real ‘doer’ but rather a ‘done-to’

4.8. Use the imperative voice if you want the reader to do something

Make it clear what you expect from the reader. If you want someone to do something, don’t waste a whole sentence. Just use an imperative.

Don’t write:
If you want to stay informed, you can subscribe to our newsletter.

Do write:
Want to stay informed? Subscribe to our newsletter.

4.9. Avoid jargon and difficult words

Avoid jargon and formal academic language. It creates distance and makes your texts complicated. Readers never complain about texts that are too simple. Only about texts that are too difficult to understand.

Don’t overestimate your readers. Never believe that they will know and understand a particular term. Always choose the simplest word.

Plain language also inspires more confidence. So choose everyday words over fancy ones, even if your texts are meant to be read by other academics.

Don’t write:
The European University Institute is committed to providing equitable academic conditions for all researchers.

Do write:
The European University Institute aims to provide equal academic conditions for all researchers.

Christopher R. Trudeau investigated the effects of legalese on readers. He tested 2 versions of the same text: 1 version in legalese, the other one in plain English. He tested with lower-literacy and higher-literacy readers.

Main differences between the versions were:

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The conclusion? All test users preferred the text in plain English. But the more highly educated the readers, the more they were bothered by legalese:

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Trudeau explains why: “Long, complicated sentences force users to slow down and work harder to understand what they’re reading. This isn’t something people want to do, even if they’re familiar with the subject or language you’re using.

It’s easy to assume this isn’t the case for highly literate readers or people considered experts. Yet the more educated a person is, and the more specialist their knowledge, the more they want it in plain English.

These people often have the least time and most to read. Which means they just want to understand your point and move on, quickly.”

So make complex ideas understandable by clear and direct language. If you must use jargon or technical words, explain what they mean.

5. Dates and numbers

5.1. Watch out for relative time indicators

Avoid vague time indications like ‘soon’ or ‘this year’. If stating the time is important, be as specific as possible. State the day, month and year (if necessary).

Don’t write:
On 1st June the opening times of the cafeteria will change.

Do write:
On 1st June 2015 the opening times of the cafeteria will change.

5.2. Dates

If you mention a date, always write it out in full.

Don’t write:
01.08.1973

Do write:
1st August 1973

5.3. Numbers

Always write numbers in figures (digits). Only mention numbers after the decimal point if they’re relevant.

Don’t write:
There were over ten thousand visitors at the information day.

Do write:
There were over 10.000 visitors at the information day.

6. Links

6.1. Make links meaningful

A link should make clear what the page it refers to is about. All the rules that apply for headings also apply to links. Integrate your links as much as possible in the text. This makes your texts nicer to read and avoids you from wasting space.

Users know that they are supposed to click on a link, so don’t write meaningless text such as ‘click here’.

Top tip: if a page has a good heading, use it as the link to that page.

Don’t write:
If you have any more questions for us, click here to contact us.

Do write:
If you have any more questions for us, fill out the contact form.

In the same way, avoid ‘naked’ links.

Don’t write:
A related interview with Deirdre McCloskey (PhD Economist, Harvard) can be found here:
http://www.icpsr.umich.edu/icpsrweb/content/ICPSR/mccloskey.html

Do write:
Also interesting in this regard: this interview with Deirdre McCloskey (PhD, Economics, Harvard).

6.2. Interlinking

Interlinking means you link your own blog post to other articles on your blog. This can help to increase your page views and the search engine friendliness of your blog post.

You can do this in different ways:

  • Link to another blog article in the course of your article
  • Provide a list of related articles at the bottom of your blog post
  • Lead people to all the articles you’ve written on a certain topic by using tags (see below)

6.3. Don’t put a link in the first paragraph

A link is an invitation to click away from the page you are on. It seems a bit strange to offer people a link to click on when they’ve just arrived at your page.

By all means put links in a text. But not in the first paragraph.

6.4. Don’t put too many links in a text

Text links stand out when you scan a page: they’re in colour and underlined. A link needs to stand out. It is used to show the reader the way to other interesting pages.

But a text full of links becomes difficult to read with all those underlined words in colour.

So limit yourself to a maximum of 1 link per paragraph.

Or group the links at the bottom of the page.

6.5. Don’t be afraid of external links

External links lead to web pages outside of your blog. This helps to attract search engines, new readers and other bloggers.

Add external links to interesting articles you’ve read, relevant news articles or terms and definitions. Also good for linking to are sources that were the reason you wrote the article, context information, and so on.

If you provide a link to a very popular blogger in your field, chances are they will someday return the favour.

7. PDF, Word and other formats

7.1. Think carefully before you use PDF, Word or other formats

Want to put a PDF, Word or other file online? Only do so if it provides added value for the reader. Not just because you happen to have the information in that particular file format.

On your website, people expect information to be in the form of a webpage.

7.2. State links to other file formats correctly

When readers see a link, they expect it to take them to another webpage. If it doesn’t, you need to make yourself extra clear.

State what the file format is, as well as the name and size of the file (MB and number of pages) in the link.

Don’t write:
Ethical research guidelines

Do write:
Ethical research guidelines (PDF, 3MB, 112 p.)

8. Proofread carefully before you publish

Read your pages through at least once and preferably twice or more before you publish them. Better still: have someone else do it for you.

Preferably someone who is not an expert in the subject the page is about. This will not only point out any language errors, but often give you a clearer look at the structure and logic of the page.

8.1. Re-read before you publish

Avoid punctuation and spelling errors, because they can affect your credibility. Always read your content thoroughly before you publish.

8.2. Use a spell checker

Spell checkers are useful to detect spelling errors. You can easily find a spell checker extension for your browser in Google.

8.3. Manually test all of your hyperlinks

Before publishing, test all your hyperlinks.

In the editor mode, select each link in your article, click right on your mouse or trackpad and select ‘Open link in new tab’:

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Is it the right page? Great. Is it not? Fix it.

Sounds tedious? It is. It’s also very important.

Publishing an article with dead or wrong links is an insult to your readers. Make the effort to check every link before you publish.

9. What to write about?

9.1. Write about things you know inside out

Don’t bother writing about a popular topic you don’t know all that much about.

The best articles are about topics you are enthusiastic about and know really well. Information about your field of interest that you are excited to share.

9.2. But also write for your readers

This sounds logical, but write as much as possible about topics your readers are interested in. Write something worth reading and sharing.

Before you publish new content, always ask yourself: “Would I share this article with my contacts? Or would I forward it to someone I know?” The answer to these questions should be yes.

9.3. Get ideas from your audience

How do you find out what your users want to read about? Useful sources of inspiration are questions, e-mails and comments on earlier blog articles or social media.

Or link your research to current events and hot topics people want to read more about.

10. Write to be found: search engine optimization (SEO)

10.1. Focus on 1 keyword

If you want your blog post to do well in Google and the other search engines, you need to use the right words, in the right places.

The easiest way to do this is to focus on just 1 keyword.

Bear in mind that a keyword can actually be more than a single word. For example: “migration” can be a keyword but also “migrant crisis”.

10.2. Do some keyword research

How do you decide which keyword to use? Obviously it should be a word related to the topic you’re writing. But the exact way you formulate your keyword can have a huge impact.

If you want lots of readers, you need to use the words people will actually write in a search engine if they want to find this information.

Google Suggest is a good source of inspiration: as soon as you start writing something it automatically suggests popular search queries.

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If you’re not sure which keyword to chooseGoogle Trends can help you decide. Google Trends is a free tool you can use to check how often a certain keyword is typed into Google.

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In this case, lots more people are looking for ‘Gezi protests’ than ‘Gezi movement’. So if you want people to find your article, you should use the keyword ‘Gezi protests’.

11. Tagging: do’s and don’ts

11.1. What are tags?

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Tags are words or word groups linked to your article. They should tell readers what your blog post is about, so in that aspect they are similar to keywords.

They should always be short and contain two or three words at most.

11.2. Why are tags important?

The tags you attach to an article are meant to help you do well in search engines for those keywords.

They’re also meant to link several articles about a topic together.

11.3. Choose tags wisely

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Don’t use vague tags like:
Movements, Party

But be as precise as possible:
Gezi protests, Turkey

Be aware of the style in which you create your tags: it makes a difference if you write your tags with or without capital letters. In other words: ‘Gezi protests’ and ‘gezi protests’ are separate tags. If you use ‘Gezi protests’ for some articles and ‘gezi protests’ for other articles, not all your blog articles will be grouped together.

12. Use images correctly

12.1. Choose a powerful lead image

Always choose a meaningful picture of extremely good quality.

For the lead image of a blog post, you are only allowed to use Flickr pictures with a creative commons licence.

  1. Surf to Flickr.com.
  2. Write your keyword in the search bar.

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  1. In the top left menu, click on ‘Any licence’ and select ‘All creative commons’.

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  1. Select a picture and download it. Always download the largest size available.

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  1. Insert the image in your blog article. All the images you upload will be automatically saved in the media library.

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Keep this media library clean: throw images you don’t use away.

  1. Add an image caption with the name of the author and the source. Example: Author:RayMorrir1 (Flickr.com)

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12.2. ALT tags for your images

Besides the lead image at the top of your article you can also add images in the content part of your blog post. Obviously, it stays important to choose good quality pictures here too.

Another thing to pay extra attention to, is the ALT attribute or ALT text you need to attach to these images.

The ALT attribute or ALT text is mandatory for images on the web. It is the text that readers will see in case the image cannot be displayed, for example because of a slow internet connection.

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You should add ALT text for all images in your body text. Always use descriptive ALT text that is specific and relevant for your image.

You can edit the ALT text in the image library.

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13. Sharing and promoting your content

13.1. How to promote your blog?

To attract readers to your blog, you need to promote your articles.

Share your posts on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or other platforms, and ask colleagues or experts in your field to do so too.

Reacting on related blog posts is also efficient. If you read an interesting article written by a colleague or someone specialized in your field, don’t be afraid to comment and refer to your own article.

Or promote your blog on your website (if you have any), in your e-mail signature or by sending out newsletters.

13.2. Interact with your readers

If you do it right, chances are high users will comment on your blog articles (or at least we hope so!).

If so, don’t forget to take the time to respond and thank them for their interest, especially for the first couple of comments.

They’ll feel appreciated, which increases the chance they’ll follow your blog and become faithful readers.

13.3. Share content on Facebook

If you share your article on Facebook, your post will automatically include the main picture of your article, the first lines of your article and a link to your blog.

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Keep your post brief — 40 characters or fewer, and don’t write introductions or exhaustive context information.

Write a compelling, punchy short status update that motivates readers to click on the link.

Where to publish? Share the article on your own timeline and ask colleagues and friends in your Facebook network to share it with their contacts. You can also share it in relevant Facebook groups.

Don’t be afraid to reshare your content over time. If you’ve written an article on a topic that’s suddenly in the news or becomes a hot topic, use it as an opportunity to attract new readers. This also applies to other social networks, not only to Facebook.

13.4. Share content on Twitter

Posts on Twitter are always limited to 140 characters. That’s not a lot.

You’ll often find you only have enough room for your title and the link to the article.

To help keep your links short you can use a url-shortener like http://bit.ly. That way, at least your url will not take up more of your characters than necessary.

13.5. Share content on LinkedIn

On LinkedIn you can either share an update or publish a post.

If you share the link to your blog article in a LinkedIn update, the post will automatically contain your title and first sentences.

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You can choose from 3 visibility options: public, your connections or public and on your Twitter account.

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LinkedIn posts, on the other hand, are essentially independent pages available straight from your feed and profile. Don’t use them to refer to articles on your external blog like you would do in an update, but publish the full article. Every LinkedIn post has its own unique URL and its content is indexed by search engines.

Additionally, you can display your best articles in a LinkedIn portfolio on your personal profile.

13.6. Other social networks

Of course, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are not the only social media platforms where you should share your work.

More academic social networksAcademiaResearchGATEEpernicusMedium.

13.7. Give it time

Don’t expect your blogging to get you immediate results. If you’re looking for a short-cut to recognition, blogging isn’t it.

Your first blog post probably won’t generate much buzz. Your first year of blogging might not even be that successful.

Don’t be put off. Blogging is a long game. You have to be in it for the long run for your efforts to pay off. Be patient. As with all good things: it takes time.

Good luck!