Starting Your Own Writing Center Blog

How-to Guide for Blog Writers & Tutors (PDF download)

Advice from the Editors of Exemplary Blogs

We asked the editors and coordinators of the exemplary blogs we analyzed in this study to give us advice on how to create and maintain writing center blogs. Their suggestions align with our findings that strong content, effective design elements, and integration with other online media are key. In addition, they offered advice about how to carefully consider purpose and audience and to designate administrators to help with blogs' sustainability. We received permission to use names and quotations.

Determine a purpose: Bronwyn Williams from the University of Louisville explained, "We decided we wanted the combination of outreach, pedagogy, and publicity that social media could offer us. [...] I also wanted to use the blog to help establish the narrative about the Writing Center we wanted to tell." Thus, there should be a variety of posts on the blog—not only can blogs be used to advertise a center's events, but they could also serve as a more informal way to discuss writing strategies with students. A blog can also provide a natural outlet to embody the philosophy and atmosphere of the writing center while attracting more tutors or encouraging students to utilize the center's services. Bertucci Hamper of the University of Wisconsin–Madison suggested that a blog also offers another forum for current staff and alums to gain critical experience writing for a public audience.

Determine an audience: Maggie Black of the University of Wisconsin–Madison (now at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville) noted, "We hope that writing center tutors around the world read and engage with this blog as a way of helping tutors to be thinking about a new issue relevant to their tutoring." Other blogs identify campus writers, instructional faculty, or writing center researchers as their intended audience.

Designate one editor or tech support person: Black pointed out, "Technical issues can cause problems with formatting and style." Several members surveyed advised that it is key to designate one permanent (or long-term) staff member as the editor or technical support person. This strategy ensures there is less training involved each term for new blog writers while also maintaining one clear process for posting blogs. Williams shared the University of Louisville's process: "The assistant directors (who are PhD students) train each other, with help from me as director. I am actively involved."

Create a style guide: Additionally, several editors offered that the creation of a style guide for the blog (especially resources for free stock images or videos) helps new writers familiarize themselves quickly with the blog's specific tone and common topics. Williams stated, "The assistant directors have a set of tips and ideas they add to that is kept on our Google Drive."

Plan ahead: Writing centers need to maintain their reading audience through consistent posting, whether that means daily, weekly, or monthly submissions. To that end, Priscilla Trinh of Minnetonka High School suggested, "Having a Google Calendar with reminders is helpful for staying on top of the schedule."

Involve more writers: Minnetonka High School has a goal to "feature more of the student body voice, not just [writing] coaches and the occasional guest post." At the University of Louisville, the burden is taken off the editor to create posts. Instead, Williams employs all writing staff as bloggers: "The consultants each write one blog post per semester. They can write about anything connected to writing—writing tips, experiences in the Writing Center, experiences as writers, other writing pedagogy topics, community writing ideas, writing issues in the news, etc. [...] Other staff members (associate director, assistant directors) also contribute posts from time to time."

Thus, one strategy before beginning a blog is to consider different series of posts that could be generated by new writers each semester. Additionally, consider the talents of your writing center staff each semester—do you have consultants majoring in graphic design or computer engineering, for example? These student writing experts could then contribute even more via their other areas of expertise.

Change course when necessary: Some editors changed the look and feel of the website as they archived older posts while others took more extreme measures. Candace Hastings from Texas A&M (now at Texas State University) realized that it was becoming too difficult to maintain a strict posting schedule while also responding to comments on the blog and re-evaluated the center's needs. She explained, "We discontinued it and folded the blog entries into the faculty section of our website under ‘How do I teach this stuff?' and we started a general interest podcast called ‘In a Word.'" While, on the surface, this news doesn't seem encouraging for new bloggers, it is helpful to consider that there is a wide range of social media outlets available for writing centers and to think carefully how a blog might best serve your center's needs. For example, on the San José State University Writing Center blog, more multimodal elements from social media outlets have been integrated into the blog. Video blog posts from the YouTube channel or Instagram series are posted on the blog so readers can catch up with content they may have missed on other platforms.

These posts help integrate with the other important work being done around the writing center, and this is also a way to both celebrate content across platforms and introduce the blog to new student audiences who encounter the writing center through YouTube or Instagram.

Insights from Our Study & from Coordination of the San José State University Writing Center Blog

Like the exemplary blogs we analyzed in this study, the San José State University Writing Center blog is used as a tool for outreach and marketing. The posts are informational resources about writing and the writing process, with some entries focused on reaching an on-campus audience (e.g., students taking the Writing Skills Test, or WST) and others offering a broader appeal to both on- and off-campus readers, such as posts about the characteristics of disciplinary writing. Tutors write the majority of the entries, with a professional staff member writing additional entries and providing general oversight. Entries are often linked to social media campaigns (e.g., the "Craft Course" series), creating a more consistent brand for the Center. The blog has almost 90,000 views as of August 2020 and has attracted local and global readers. We offer some technical recommendations for creating a blog:

Use an easy blog-building platform: In 2018, some of the easiest to use platforms were WordPress, Weebly, Blogger, Wix, and Tumblr (the latter might be hardest to adapt to the needs of a writing center, but your students would likely be familiar with it). Picking a platform that's already familiar to your staff will make any training much easier.

Buy the website upgrades: If your school will sponsor an upgrade, it's useful to see the analytics and also easily update the theme to your posts/blog. The SJSU blog relies on the premium version of Canva to help create promotional materials for the website.

But don't be afraid to use free resources on the internet: For example, we recommend that writers use GIPHY to find images. It's easy to copy the images, and they are not often taken down by the site.

Take inspiration from other blogs: At SJSU, we loved the series from the University of Louisville called "Why I Write." As Williams explained in our survey, "[It is a] series on the blog in which local writers (faculty, staff, writers in the community from novelists to journalists to business people, etc.) answer five questions about how they write." We transformed this series into SJSU's "Better Know a Department" where we interview our faculty about their department's writing expectations.

Listen to your staffers: We enjoy chatting with our tutors because we always discover new secret talents they'd love to share on the blog. One tutor loves to design clever puns; another one loves to write about grammar issues; and a new tutor who plays video games in front of an audience wants to start streaming our workshops live on our blog. By being receptive to new suggestions, we've added several series to our blog. We can learn new ways of reaching our audiences by listening to our tutors.

Pay attention to your analytics: We've discovered that we receive the most views close to the writing skills test exam dates (students must pass this written exam to be cleared for upper-division major courses). We schedule special timed writing posts for the week leading up to these dates to best help our audience.

Don't make blogging a burden and always look for ways to change: The internet is always changing; the news is practically instantaneous now, so why should your blog be stuck in the past? What works best for your program might not still get your readers excited in a few years. So, don't be afraid of change—embrace it! Update that blog template, add that video interview, and change your topics as it behooves the evolving needs of your writing center.

Two Final Takeaways for Blog Longevity

Get professional staff involved: It is invaluable to have a dedicated professional staff/faculty member who provides oversight to the blog. In a writing center that follows a peer tutoring model, the turnover rate for employees is high (because, as students, all of them eventually graduate), so once the students who develop a blog are gone, the likelihood of blog stagnancy increases exponentially. The professional staff member offers consistency, and the person in that role can also help the tutors learn lessons about blog writing and writing for a "realized public audience," as Jennifer Hewerdine (2018) discussed with regard to the classroom context. The professional oversight also reduces the challenges related to learning new technology, as the tutors always have a guide who is familiar with the tech and can see them through any issues.

Professional staff can also troubleshoot and advocate for the writing center if/when institutional contraints become an issue. If there are issues with platforms no longer being sponsored by the university or budget shortfalls in the midst of a planned expansion, a designated point person to deal with those issues can advocate for funding or continuity. At the San José State University Writing Center, professional staff are now working with the university on a long-term project on accessibility questions related to the sharing of online content; again, it is useful to have a consistent representative for the blog team and writing center. Finally, a consistent coordinator can oversee transitions when it's time to undertake major revisions of content or design.

Make blogging a bonus of the job, not a requirement: Tutors should opt into blog writing as opposed to being forced to participate, alleviating potential issues with tutor usage of the blog, as Melinda Baer (2006) discussed. In the San José State University Writing Center, tutors choose a resource project to work on each semester, which can be an informational handout, an instructional video, a pop-up event, a new workshop, or entries for our blog. Thus, tutors writing for the blog are interested in doing so, and they are given deadlines to meet throughout the semester, just like they would be for any piece of professional writing.

Blogging is inherently a public endeavor, as it is material published on the internet. Writing centers would do well to embrace that public aspect and use blogs as a public forum to display the knowledge/skills of their employees, to advertise upcoming events, to link to social media pages/campaigns, and to produce valuable resources about writing for a wide audience. Embracing the public nature of blogging alleviates the privacy concerns expressed by many in the literature; perhaps if the material shouldn't be public, then a blog might not be the best medium for that work. Privacy is one of the factors to consider when deciding whether or not to host a writing center blog in the first place.

The main factor to consider, however, is the benefit: Before writing center directors work toward best practices for their blogs, they should determine how or why a blog will add value to their outreach and marketing programs. They should consider questions such as the following: Will their intended audience read the posts? Will faculty assign or direct students to the blog? Is this medium an effective use of time and resources? Every local context will be different, but with careful consideration and planning, a blog can be a valuable addition to a writing center.