What in the heck is a weblog?
In an article entitled Getting Through the Blog! Living in the Blog-Osphere, Janie Payne of the Montana Chapter of STC, described weblogs (also known as blogs) as “personal web pages containing short, frequently updated messages – often with links to other items or articles on the Web – arranged in reverse chronological order, newest first.” Payne says “Blogs are usually maintained by one person (although some blogging software allows multiple contributors) and are written in a conversational manner. There are blogs about cats, knitting, TV shows, baseball, life in the Antarctic – you name the topic, and there is probably a blog devoted to it.”
The folks at blogger.com, a software provider whose offerings include a popular weblog publishing tool of the same name, offer a similar description of blogs, but add, “Weblogs help small groups communicate in a way that is simpler and easier to follow than email or discussion forums. A blog can help keep everyone in the loop, promote cohesiveness and group culture, and provide an informal voice of a project or department to outsiders.” And some blogs stimulate dialogue by providing a way for readers to comment on what they read.
In a nutshell, a blog is a place for an individual or group to present current information, insights, and links for others with similar interests. A blog can be as formal or informal as you like, and with a little savvy you can ensure it’s indexed by search engines, it’s a great tool to increase your visibility to potential employers and your peers. Most blogs can also be “private” which means that while the content is not publicly viewable or searchable, you can grant access to only certain people, such as potential employers.
So how will I know a blog when I see it?
The best way to learn what a weblog is (and is not) is to visit some good examples created by technical communicators.
Guy K. Haas maintains a weblog entitled Some Thoughts on Communication. Hass created this unofficial STC blog to provide a forum for discussion of matters of interest to members of STC.
The Creative Tech Writer: The Meaning of Life is in the Manual is another excellent blog maintained by “Jenny” (no last name provided). Jenny waxes poetic on subjects including why she hates reading the STC journal Technical Communication.
Perhaps the best example of a weblog maintained by a technical communicator is ID Blog the official blog of the STC Information Design SIG maintained by Beth Mazur. Mazur discusses usability, design and anything else that catches her attention, and her writing is crisp, as is look of the site itself. Links are interesting and provocative.
Darren Barefoot, a technical writer, uses his blog to highlight his skill set and experience.
Another useful resource for those seeking to understand weblogs can be found in the March/April 2003 issue of MetroVoice, the Newsletter of New York Metro Society for Technical Communication. The author, Lisa Young, explores why technical writers Blog on the side.
The Content Wrangler
I created my blog, The Content Wrangler, to help me market myself. It’s basically an online portfolio that I can modify on-the-fly from wherever I may be, as long as I’m connected to the net. The site is home to my resume, articles and book reviews I’ve written, details about classes I’ve taught, presentations I’ve given, etc. I direct recruiters and prospects to my site so they can better understand my skill set, writing ability, involvement in industry groups, etc. And, I include a link to my site in the signature line of every email I send, thereby giving my site (and me) additional exposure. This is a particularly valuable marketing tactic if you participate in online discussion groups or listservs in which your weblog address may be seen by hundreds, perhaps thousands of others.
Things to keep in mind
If you decide to create a blog to promote yourself professionally, leave the personal stuff out. While blogs traditionally have been soapboxes for the opinionated, your professional blog should be on topic and should present you in the same “voice” you’d use with a human interviewer. Discuss anything you’d feel comfortable covering in an interview, but remember that as a marketing tool your blog may well the first exposure a recruiter has to your experience and personality—and you want him or her to like what’s there enough to get in touch. Your blog is your chance to show off your professional accomplishments (preferably with online examples), to demonstrate your expertise in entries that describe how you solved problems, and potentially to share links to resources that may be of use to others. If you’re lucky, your blog will become a resource for fellow technical communicators because it contains info that’s valuable to them, and their attention in turn will result in greater visibility for you with employers. Be sure to feature your contact information (email) prominently on the site, and update the content regularly to promote a loyal readership and to indicate to reader’s that it’s a current project to which they can respond.
Many blogging tools are free or provide free trials—test drive several and figure out what works for you. The key thing to realize is that you don’t have to be a web guru to get your blog up and running (many of the blog tools out there target those with little or no experience coding HTML). You can then learn as much or as little about coding as you choose. And most blogs are to a degree customizable, so as your experience and creativity grow you can give your blog a facelift with custom graphics, edit and apply cascading style sheets, and experiment with features such as calendars and mailing lists.
I purchased pMachine blogging software, a web-based blog creation tool that met my criteria for ease of use, cost and functionality. pMachine Support is friendly and the documentation is thorough, so when I have a problem it gets resolved fast. Plus I can manage my blog entries, post to my blog from a web browser, and change the look and feel of the site. You may find another blogging software package better meets your needs—the best way to know is to research what’s available.
Whether you’re currently employed or job-hunting, a blog is a great way to capture and store writing, samples of your work and resources that catch your eye. And even if you’re not currently looking for a position, it can be a good way to network in the technical communication community. Blogging is inexpensive, and you’ll develop new (marketable!) skills while you’re doing it.