by Shoaib Sufi, Community Lead
After an hour of discussion on a research software related topic at a workshop, a discussion group would stand up for 2-3 minutes and present back their findings (e.g. problems, solutions, future work or however they chose to speak about a topic). However without context the notes produced from such a session are not of much use to the wider community after the workshop. So, what's the solution?
As well as a discussion, it was my idea that the group should also produce their outputs as blog posts. We trialed this at the Fellows Inaugural meeting in Feb 2016 and Institute Fellow, Melodee Beals coined the term 'speed blogging' which we now use.
Speed blogs can be completed and be publication read during the allotted time at an event or they can be near complete after the event and then tidied up and made ready for publication soon after the event. Thus they are time bound, time sensitive and are a fixed task that does not represent an ongoing commitment. They are a referenceable record of collaboration which gives credit to those involved in writing them. Speed blogging is a method of co-production that can be adapted to produce different styles of writing and other types of outputs (e.g. checklists, diagrams).
Tips for writing collaborative speed blogs
Speed blogs are normally written pieces but you may sometimes choose a different format.
Ideally your speed blog will be a written piece with a picture (max 2) and contain some links and references. In terms of word count you are aiming for between 500 and 1200 words.
In case you want to try something different for you speed blog this is also possible. Perhaps the output from your discussions is better expressed as a table of information, an audio podcast, a video log, a short play or a diagram. These are OK and can count as valid and useful speed blogs, just make sure to include enough context that those who were not at the session can gain from them.
How do you balance thinking about a topic and writing about a topic at the same time?
You don't! Ideally you have a reasonable amount of time for your discussion and speed blogging session. At CW17 we scheduled 1 hour and 30 minutes for the session and that included the write up. You might discuss the topic you have chosen for about half of the time available using your creative, enquiring and brain storming faculties. Then the other half of the time should then be spent trying to bring this all together in your product/construction oriented frame of mind.
If the topic of discussion that you have chosen turns out to be too complex, broad or in depth then you could focus on choosing a sub-topic of the main discussion or reporting on an aspect which you think is particularly interesting or important.
You could also decide to take an iterative approach and have two cycles for exploring and writing to help hone your ideas and clarify your message.
How can you best utilise a team to write together?
Once all the discussions are done you may look through your notes and pull out some of the main themes as well as the context/problem(s) and solution(s)/take home. With this plan in mind you could then assign paragraphs to different team members and write your first set of paragraphs in parallel. As a group you could then come together to review the article and make it more coherent, adding links and references if necessary.
Speed blogging group are ideally 2-6 people in size. In a bigger group you could let some of the people do background on topics that came up while other write and the background folk could act as reviewers.
Templates to help structure your articles and thoughts
Here are two suggested format, they are only suggestions though, you may decide to use them as a basis for you own article and it's fine to use a different approach.
Template 1 - Five important things
You could take a conclusion first oriented approach to your blog and cover:
- What are the five most important things learnt during this discussion
You could also include:
- What are the problems, and are there solutions?
- What further work could be done, and who should do it?
- Are there any useful resources that people should know about?
Template 2 - Summary and related areas
These could include all or some of:
- Why is this issue important?
- Summary of the discussion topic
- Other significant points outside the main topic of discussion
Examples of Speed Blogs
The speed blogging technique has been used by various workshops the Institute has organised and co-organised. Here is a list of some and their speed blog outputs:
Other useful links about the blog/guide style of writing
Writing for the Institute is an excellent in depth guide and will help you write better blog posts.
Tips for editing other people's writing is also a brilliant article to help understand editing the text of team members or offering suggestions.
Academic blogging: top tips by Institute Fellow, Tom Crick which was originally published in Guardian Higher Education Network Blog is about the general motivation and method of blogging.
What scientists can expect when dabbling in science writing by Brittney G. Borowiec. This article covers the difference in style that needs to be developed compared to traditional academic writing and some of the emotional aspects of this journey.