Today's Eventsno events today
by Pat Letendre
This blog is the first in a series written for the British Blood Transfusion Society. I'm delighted to be a guest blogger for the BBTS. In this entry, I'll share a few blog basics - 'food for thought' tidbits - to help potential bloggers write blogs and readers assess blogs.
The blog's title derives from a Steppenwolf song used in the iconic 1969 movie, Easy Rider.
ALERT: As Hemingway noted, 'The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, sh*t detector'. Please read blogs with that in mind as Hemingway's precaution applies to readers too.
My transfusion medicine (TM) blog experience began in 2004, just over a decade after the Internet came to my workplace and I started the mailing list, MEDLAB-L. The Internet reached a global audience and now those with ideas and resources to share could do so via blogging tools, offered free to anyone with Net access. In the 10 years since I've learned a lot about blogging.
Blogs are similar to the essays we wrote in school or 'oped' pieces in newspapers. A blog typically represents the biased views of its author. As with everything on the Internet, the signal to noise ratio (ratio of useful to useless information) is poor. See the Urban Dictionary's two tongue-in-cheek blog definitions. Many health professionals view blogs similarly.
The most crucial task when reading a blog is to assess credibility the way we assess journal articles:
- Who are the authors and their qualifications to write on the topic?
- What competing interests may affect their viewpoint and have they disclosed them?
- When was the blog written and does it represent current conditions in my locale?
- Where do they work and how closely does it relate to my workplace?
- Why did the authors write the blog? Do they have an agenda, hidden or otherwise?
First, the basics. Because all health workers are busy professionals, I suggest bloggers make reading blogs easier by following these five formatting tips:
As in the newspaper business, don't bury the lead. Place the blog's theme 'above the fold'. Readers want instant gratification on Why should I read this?, busy health professionals even more so.
Say it quick, say it well – the attention span of a modern internet consumer (The Guardian, 19 Mar. 2012)
My experience is that most transfusion medicine professionals are swamped with e-mail (much of it unnecessary) and often scan e-mail messages too quickly to comprehend key points. Imagine how much attention is available for reading a blog.
Use short paragraphs and, whenever possible, bulletted lists. Long paragraphs are the kiss of death on the Internet (even in e-mails), especially to aging health professionals whose visual acuity is not what it once was. For example:
Canada: Largest 5-year age group for medical laboratory technologists: 50-54, followed by 45-49. (Source: CIHI, p.13)
Data for the UK and USA are similar.
The good news is that web text can easily be enlarged with pressing and holding the CTRL key and repeatedly pressing the plus (+) sign on the key pad. But large text doesn't make reading long paragraphs easier.
Some experts claim blogs should be 500 - 750 words. My TM blogs are longer, probably too long. In general, less is more when it comes to blogs. But the ideal blog length is whatever it takes to convey the message. This blog has ~ 1000 words.
Unless you are prepared to monitor links to external resources regularly, use links sparingly and try to choose those unlikely to change over time, e.g. PubMed papers.
5. So what?
Ensure your blog has a so what statement, a conclusion that summarises the main learning points and leaves readers with a clear sense of So what? If you haven't got a so what message, you haven't got a blog worth reading.
Choosing a blog topic is difficult because your personal 'hobbyhorses' may mean nil to readers.
Besides hot topics in your locale, TM blog ideas are found in many places, including journals and news items. Subscribing to transfusion journal alerts and search engine alerts retrieves a steady stream of possibilities.
Before you write a blog, think of its main message, similar to writing the conclusion of a scientific paper. Why did you write the blog? What message do you have that is worth the time for busy colleagues to read?
Be yourself. Show your personality and unique writing 'voice'. Regardless of topic, you don't want a blog to sound as if it was written by a committee.
Being controversial and stretching the envelope of acceptability are better blog strategies than toeing party lines. Don't give the expected 'treatments' of a topic. Instead, challenge orthodox opinions. A blog that risks offending 'powers that be' is always preferable. Parrotting what everyone else believes makes for a boring blog. The goal is to get colleagues to think outside their comfort zone.
Hence this blog's title, Born to be wild? Recall what Aristotle reportedly said:
- 'To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.'
My ~10-years of TM blogs are available at 'Musings on Transfusion Medicine'. Although writing from a Canadian perspective, I hope the blogs are interesting and relevant to transfusion professionals around the globe.
Sample blog topics:
- Day Tripper (Musings on HC's instructions to the jury on paid plasma) July 12, 2013
- The Way We Were (Musings on the benefits of attending conferences) May 11, 2013
- Goldfinger's Filings, A Customer's Tool-kit (Musings on business intelligence) August 26, 2010
SO WHAT? MESSAGE
Blogging is an irresistible opportunity to offer colleagues food for thought. Effective blogs say something worth saying, respect the reader's time, and are unpredictable.
I encourage bloggers to write their passions. The British TM community has generously shared its expertise and resources over the years and now, via blogs, can share ideas with colleagues around the globe.
To me blogging is a chance to have fun, inform, and challenge those in authority. Easy Rider is a counter culture film that spoke to a generation. The song's opening has advice for potential bloggers:
Born To Be Wild
Get your motor runnin'
Head out on the highway
Looking for adventure In whatever comes our way...
The views expressed are mine and mine alone. As always, comments are most welcome.
Pat Letendre is the webmaster for the TraQ website of the BC Provincial Blood Coordinating Office in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Pat specializes in developing transfusion-related websites and managing mailing lists for health professionals. She has extensive experience as an educator and clinical instructor.
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