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SUMMER BREAK

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Dear Bliss community,

We appreciate your commitment to contributing and reading our blogs.

As the Summer 🌞 shines, we intend to take a break from today 17 July – 20 Aug to rejuvenate and serve you better.

Remember to stay safe, hydrated 🍉🍹 & read up on http://www.issblog.nl

11 tips for better blogging by Duncan Green

Blogging guru Duncan Green, whose blog site From Poverty to Power is immensely successful, last week visited the ISS to host a blogging workshop. Here he shares his list of top tips for aspiring academic and non-academic bloggers.


I’ve run several blogging workshops in recent weeks, with seasoned campaigners at Global WitnessOxfam Novib’s youth wing, and academic bloggers at the Institute for Social Studies in The Hague. All three sessions followed a similar format, developed for a Unicef session I ran last year – a half hour intro from me, and then an editing session where we read and comment on the participants’ draft posts in turn (5m reading, 10m discussion, then move on). Despite the differences between the participants, similar editorial points kept cropping up, so I thought I’d try and nail them down here.

  1. Write like you talk: a blog is a weblog – a diary. So write like you talk, which may well mean quite a lot of unlearning, given that academia spends years training you not to write like you talk! Re our recent devspeak discussion on this blog: if you find yourself using phrases or words you would never use in a conversation (‘it therefore seems appropriate that…’), stop.
  2. Throat clearing and the Third Para rule: it’s striking how often you edit a draft by cutting the first two paras and starting on para 3. The reason is that people feel compelled to introduce the blog by talking at length about process (‘we recently organized a seminar, consisting of 2 plenaries and a set of breakout workshops’) or name checking a pile of organizations. But the first paragraph of a post is a precious place – it is often the only para people read, and it has to grab their attention if they are to carry on reading. So that para needs to keep introductory scene setting to the bare minimum, and then move swiftly on to be the core idea of your piece (if you don’t have a core idea, that’s also a problem).
  3. Narrative is everything: A blog is not a lit review or an exec sum. You need to make the narrative central, and minimise the baggage of references and namechecks (including for the author – use links to books, papers and online bios to avoid wasting precious words and diluting the narrative).
  4. Ideas work better than Process or Description or (shudder) lots of acronyms: no-one cares where the workshop was held, who was there, or even that there was a workshop at all. Focus on what emerged that is of general interest – the ideas and concepts, the new insights. And not too many of them – one big idea is perfect for a blog. 10 ideas make for a confusing read. Avoid long lists of acronyms that turn readers off.
  5. Style: Avoid the passive tense and double negatives (‘it is not unreasonable to assume that….), keep sentences and paragraphs short. Define terms. Don’t be pompous. Be more Orwell.
  6. Don’t be scared: both academics and NGO types seem petrified that someone is going to catch them out. That leads to defensive writing, with loads of caveats, or alternatively to a weird hectoring style, with lots of finger wagging (‘the IMF can and must…’). Boring, boring, boring. Much better to reach out to the imaginary reader, make friends with them, take risks.
  7. Write in tiers: A post should be a nested product, with a spectrum of levels from brevity to comprehensiveness; people can follow the tiers as far as their interest and time (and the writing) allows, but they should get a clear and free-standing message from each: Title → First Para → Post → further reading via links.
  8. Accompany the reader: in keeping with the conversational ‘write like you talk’ style, you can help the reader with occasional flags, explaining what they are about to read: ‘why does that matter?’ or ‘First the good news’ style sentences make the info easier to absorb.
  9. Illustrate ideas with examples: don’t just stay in the conceptual meta-world; show what it means on the ground – a historical example, a case study or how the idea might apply to a particular person (for a Tanzanian farmer growing maize, this approach to climate insurance would mean X’).
  10. Admit doubt. You are not Moses coming down from the mountain, so forget the tablets of stone. This is a conversation, and you can say ‘I’m not sure about this – what do you think?’ and hope readers will help you think things through.
  11. Academic does not mean boring: even for academic blogs, the above rules apply. Avoid unnecessary jargon and obfuscation – remember people could be reading on their mobiles while juggling child care.

Although I would be the first to say there is no one way to write a blogpost – they should reflect the personality and background of the author, these 11 tips seemed to be applicable to most of the very different posts were were looking at.

*Green also published a PowerPoint of his top tips in the original article (link below).


This article originally appeared on From Poverty To Power.


green_d.jpgAbout the author:

Duncan Green is strategic adviser for Oxfam GB and author of ‘From Poverty to Power’.

Celebrating a year of blissful blogging: ISS Blog Bliss turns 1!

Bliss, the blog of the ISS on global development and social justice, turns one this week. Although the blog is still in its infancy, it is already showing great promise. The Bliss Editorial Board here reflects on the reasons why Bliss should be celebrated and outlines their wish list for the year to come.


Bliss, our blog about global development and social justice, celebrates its first birthday today. We don’t really have a frame of reference for thinking about whether we are doing a good job, and can thus only share why we have come to like the blog.

In the first 12 months of existence of our blog, 68 posts have been published. Two-thirds of these were written by staff and students of the ISS. The breadth of topics mirror the lively diversity in the institute, with topics ranging from economic diplomacy, humanitarian aid, women’s rights, epistemic diversity, deglobalisation, the Orphan Industrial Complex, populism, and much more.

We know our stats. We have had 13,000 visitors in the first year—more than 1,000 every month. Is this good or not? It pales in view of the intimidating numbers one has become used to for web-based platforms. But what do we compare the blog to? When we think of the average number of students in a classroom or participants in seminars, we are extremely happy and impressed if indeed 13,000 people have bothered to read at least one of our posts!

Making our research known

What inspired the blog is an urge to open the windows of our building and reach out about pressing issues that our research sheds light on. We defined our audience as people in policy, practice and the public at large. We are particularly pleased that we have had 1,000 visitors from India, and another thousand from South Africa and Kenya! We have actually had visitors from across the world due to the diversity of our articles.

ISS staff and students have also gotten to know each other’s work better through Bliss. We see each other every so often over lunch or in meetings, and we usually know the kind of project or topic colleagues work on, but rarely do we know the specifics of the research. It is really wonderful to get the occasional glimpse of what your neighbour at work has been up to and what insights she or he reached and wants the world to know about.

Pursuing social justice

One blog will not change the world, but it is wonderful that we can add our voices to the critical streams for positive change, global development and social justice that keep up and manage to trickle through all the often depressing layers of naïve, selfish, blinded, devious, scared, evil, commercial, unthinking, or fanatical messages that continue to condone inequality, violence and threats to our climate.

Our first year has brought some evidence that blogging can be fun and powerful. Dorothea Hilhorst, one of the Editorial Board members, wrote her first post for Bliss about a report on transactional sex in the DRC that she was quite proud of, but that had not gotten much traction in the two years after its completion. However, Bliss helped her to make known her work on transactional sex in the DRC. The topicality, the title, and the picture related to the blog article all added to the cocktail that made the post one of the most popular on Bliss. It importantly led to different follow-up requests for lectures, blogs and even an invitation to contribute to a special issue on sexual abuse in the aid sector. This just shows what impact Bliss can potentially make if it reaches the right audiences.

The year ahead

It would be tempting to present you here with links to our favourite posts, but there are too many, and each has its own merits. We invite everyone to identify their personal favourite and tell us in a comment. So, instead of listing our favourites, let us rather share with you our wish list for the year to come. Here are five things that we hope to see in the coming years:

  1. More series. We have had several series this year on deglobalisation, epistemic communities and humanitarian studies. Series have turned out to be an effective way of disseminating fresh messages while creating a continuing conversation about different faces and shades of an issue.
  2. More responses on topical issues and news related to our academic work. Many things happen in the world that our research directly speaks to, so our research can feed into ongoing debates. Just recently, for example, we had a wonderful post on the recent elections in Brazil.
  3. More frequent use of blogging to increase the societal relevance of academic work. ISS places a high premium on societal relevance. Although there are many meanings of and approaches to societal relevance (a blog article on the topic is to be published soon), blogging is definitely a wonderful way to go the extra mile and tell a wider audience about relevant findings from an academic publication.
  4. More discussion about issues that matter to academic work in a world where the nature and status of science and evidence is increasingly under discussion. Confusingly and interestingly, these discussions take place in different corners. They come from places that favour fake news and like to see science as just another opinion. But they also come from within the academe where we wonder how inequality and a lack of recognition of the value of diversity biases our work. There is lots of space for debate on our blog.
  5. More stories that give voice to people that may not easily be heard. To paraphrase comedian Hannah Gadsby: it is not laughter or anger that connects people and communities, but stories. Let Bliss be a place where connecting stories are being told!

The Bliss Editorial Board members are Sylvia Bergh, Dorothea Hilhorst, Linda Johnson, Rod Mena, Matthias Rieger and Christina Sathyamala.