I came to neurology blogging by a circuitous accident. My journey started with wanting to understand why I got ‘it’ wrong on a couple of occasions when I started as a newly minted neurologist. I therefore found myself exploring the cognitive biases underpinning human error. I discovered Atul Gawande’s ‘The Checklist Manifesto‘, and this led me to develop Neurochecklists, an online neurology database. And that opened the door to blogging…and the whole social media thing. Along with The Doctors Bookshelf and Neurochecklists Updates, I have been running three blogs over the last five years; I therefore think I have learnt a thing or two about it to dare post this piece. Are you thinking about taking the plunge? Well, here are my 8 steps to starting your own neurology blog.
1. Identify your niche
You may already have a specialty or subspecialty interest. And the key word is interest. You must have a passion for it, and keen to get others to share in it. But do not restrict yourself to an extremely narrow niche; you must have enough material for you to carry on blogging after the first few posts, and to avoid boring your readers and followers!
2. Explore your niche
Blogging is not always about inventing new stuff. It is about curating, mixing and matching, exploring a topic from novel perspectives. Almost anything goes, and whatever your interest, there is room to explore it, delve deep, and make connections with other areas. You can look back at its history or try to predict its future. You may investigate its oddities and rarities, or its pioneers and bad apples. It is important to keep curiosity as your guide, answering the questions people have – why, when, where, who, and why. My favourite sites for curating relevant ideas and content that are equally accessible to specialists and lay people are Nuzzel, Flipboard, The Conversation, Scienmag, Aeon, BigThink, and Quantamagazine. And the neurology literature is of course a rich source of content. I bookmark everything that catches my eye to a dedicated folder on Chrome for future use.
3. See how others are doing it
Before kicking off, you may want to see what other neurologists are doing. See my previous posts on this titled What is the state of neurology on the blogosphere? and What are other neurology blogs talking about? It may also help to read a book about blogging, but one is enough.
4. Create a blog account
This is when you know you are ready to come out. It is not easy for neurologists who are generally taciturn, self-effacing, quiet, and perhaps conservative. I needed a lot of prodding myself, but once you cross the rubicon, the blogosphere is open season. Use one of many blog-hosting sites: I use WordPress. Remember that uploading your photograph or gravatar is a prerequisite to being on social media; nothing is more off-putting than a social media platform with no identity.
5. Create your social media platforms
You can’t blog successfully without social media presence. I started off with many but I have settled on five: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Tumblr. If you are not already on these platforms, you may want to take the dip after reading my previous blog post, How is social media enriching neurological practice? Choose people of similar interest to follow on any platform – they are your window to what is happening more widely, even in your chosen niche; it is surprising how much useful and cutting-edge content is shared out there. Indeed social media is today indispensable for keeping up with your knowledge generally, as it is for acquiring and sharing ideas and content. You may read more on this in my previous blog post titled How is social media enriching neurological practice?
6. Create your content
Content creation is often based on an idea you want to share. You may consider developing several ideas and saving these as drafts for future use. Consider your headline carefully – a good headline calls attention to your content in a digital world where every material is screaming ‘read me’. It is a good idea to run your headline through a headline analyser: I use Coschedule. Just pour out your heart and content into the page, but taking care to use short sentences and paragraphs. It may be worth reading a short guide to writing well, and I have reviewed two of the best on my book review blog, and these are The Elements of Style and The Golden Book on Writing. Your first choice words are often not good enough, and a thesaurus is indispensable: my choice is Thesaurus.com but I have latterly found Relatedwords and Wordhippo to be equally as good. Make sure you hyperlink important sources for your blog. The blog tool allows you to do this by clicking on the familiar hyperlink icon , but an easy way is to highlight your item and then press Ctrl+Alt+K or Cmd+K.
7. Use images to complement your text
After creating your content, you will need to breathe some soul into it. Images are indispensable for this. I perhaps overdo it, but I am always impressed by the images out there. A simple Google image search is sufficient, taking care to only use images that are free to use, and to acknowledge the source. Wikipedia and Flickr are often good sources for my licence-free image requirements, but I occasionally resort to Pixabay.
8. Share your content
Before you share your blog post, you need to edit, edit, and edit. And then edit some more. It is often difficult to pick up glaring errors or minor details at first reading. Ask someone to read it for you if possible; my family is my perfect sounding board. By perhaps your twentieth edit, your content becomes readable and relatively free-flowing. Once you are satisfied, press ‘publish‘. Then share your content to social media using a shortened link of your blog link. You can copy and paste the shortlink generated automatically by your blog, or you can manually do this using url shortening websites: I use Bitly but a good option is Tinyurl. You can automate your content sharing using one of several platforms: I use Hootsuite which incorporates its own url shortner called ow.ly. You can read more about url shorteners here.
There are a few things you shouldn’t worry about when you start blogging. You shouldn’t be discouraged if it appears that nobody is reading, liking, or commenting on your post; the greatest benefit for blogging is for yourself, and any recognition is an extra treat which may come in time. Go on then…welcome to the blogosphere!