In the literature, scholars discussed the value of student-written blogs for helping students gain access to academic writing (Kirkup, 2010) or multimodal composing (O'Byrne & Murrell, 2014), for reflection (Blazer, 2015; Chong, 2010; Hall, 2011, 2017), and for understanding purpose and audience (Hewerdine, 2018). Yet, importantly, many writing center blogs serve a purpose beyond asking their student writers to reflect or helping them learn; they also serve as a resource for other writers on campus.
To this end, in our analysis of 43 writing center blogs, we focused on the features that make them particularly compelling for readers beyond an internal tutor-in-training audience. We identified three features that we saw in the blogs that were typically (though not always) the longest lived: strong content, effective design elements, and integration with the writing center's online presence.
To demonstrate these features, we selected six engaging blogs—which are linked in the boxes below—to examine closely and to analyze for these three key features. No one blog demonstrates all three components equally, so we examine how each feature occurs in some of the selected blogs.
Many of the blogs we analyzed for this project have strong content; in our analysis, strong content means having a clear intended audience or purpose that goes beyond an internal writing center training course. The Bucknell University Writing Center blog, for example, features guest posts from faculty, alumni who write professionally, and some current students and peer writing consultants. Although no longer active, the blog's stated goals were "to highlight writers and writing at Bucknell and to share ideas and information that may interest our community." The most recent posts, from 2015, are from a chemistry professor ("Professor David Rovnyak on the Labors of Writing as a Chemist"), a geology professor ("Research and Writing in the Science, or Rob Jacob Communicates from a Glacier"), and a physical therapy assistant ("Wendy McTammany '95 on Changing Careers and Adapting Her Writing to Suit New Audiences and Purposes").
These posts appear to respond to a prompt that asked the writers to describe themselves as writers, their writing process, the types of things they write, and the challenges they face. The blog posts from Rovnyak, Jacob, and McTammany were detailed and engaging, and they were directed to a current student audience. For instance, McTammany's blog post focused on how her writing experiences while a student at Bucknell prepared her to analyze different audiences' expectations in her current role as a physical therapy assistant.
The award-winning University of Wisconsin–Madison Writing Center blog, Another Word, is one of the most established blogs in the writing center community. Their content is high quality and engaging, with articles focused on all aspects of writing center praxis and research. The blog is a key component of the way this writing center serves the international writing center community, with blogs written by current staff, alumni, and invited guests. Blogs are posted twice a month, with posts on the connections between a graduate student's research and work in the writing center ("Writing with Others: Renaissance Coteries, the Writing Center, and Community"); stories focused on UW–Madison writers ("Madison Writing Assistance: Spotlighting Three Writers"); and advice for faculty ("How Faculty in All Disciplines Can Help ESL Writers Succeed").
Part of what makes this blog so exemplary is the time and commitment given to developing content; Maggie Black (at the time of this study, the Online Writing Center Coordinator; Black is now teaching at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville) told us that "It takes a lot of work to line up authors to produce a high-quality, substantial post every week during the academic year and to build an audience for the blog, but we've been committed to doing this for all 10 years of its existence." Other elements that make the blog high quality are the fact that the posts are written by faculty members and graduate students (whose research interests align with writing center work) and that the blog has a designated coordinator.
To showcase one more example, the posts on the University of Louisville Writing Center's blog are both practical and accessible. While for many writing centers, a blog with the frequency and level of scholarly engagement of Another Word would be hard to reach, the UofL's blog seems easier for other writing centers to emulate, as most of the posts are written by undergraduate writing center tutors. Posts are made frequently, and are timely and advice-based—as of April 2020, the blog had three posts about now to navigate the writing process during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, posts with titles like "Commas Rule! Common Comma Rules and Tips," "Why We Call Everyone a 'Writer,'" and "How a Writing Center Consultant Prepares for the Next Appointment" offer advice to student writers and appeal to students who are considering using the writing center.
As with any type of multimedia, creative design is necessary for a blog to be successful. The design of a blog—including standard design elements such as white space and balance of texts and images—can help to determine its success. More creative design elements can lead to increased readership, and design principles that affect readability can impact usage of a blog and its continued success. Another aspect of creative design is consideration of non-textual methods to reach student writers (e.g., through videos and podcasts); this creativity in regard to the types of resources offered demonstrates an understanding of students' different learning styles.
The Texas A&M University Writing Center hosts a variety of multimedia options for their users/readers/listeners. They hosted three podcasts about writing: In a Word (2014–2016), Write Right (2016–2017), and Write Away (2016). They also have videos on their "tamuwritingcenter" YouTube page, which has over 12,000 subscribers. All videos are clearly organized into categories such as "Graduate Writing," "The Writing Process," and "Style & Grammar" (amongst others). In addition to the impressive number of subscribers to their YouTube channel, most videos garner comments from their viewers, demonstrating a deeper level of engagement. The video and podcast offerings that they produce are clear, educational, and, quite often, humorous. Lastly, they are also on Spotify as "writeradio," where they have "put together a number of writing-friendly playlists, designed to help you coax your words on to the page" ("UWC Offers," 2017).
Though these resources are not in a traditional blog format, they show the creativity that writing centers can employ when developing resources to reach diverse audiences. The various types of resources also demonstrate the importance of meeting students where they are (e.g., on Spotify) and helping students engage in "plural modes of literacy" through "media-rich platforms," as addressed in Barbara O'Byrne and Stacey Murrell (2014, p. 926).
Finally, The University Center for Writing-based Learning at DePaul University hosts the UCWbLING blog; this blog has a consistent style, with readers accessing blog posts by clicking on an abstract image. The muted color theme is consistent and remains evident on all sections of the blog, leading to a unified presentation. Blog posts are categorized into 10 areas, one of which is a radio show hosted by the center. The blog's categories are accessible in a few places, which is another aspect of the blog's coherent design. What is most compelling about this site, in addition to the appeal of image consistency, is the use of simple typewriter font and regularity of blog posts. The design of this blog exemplifies how—when done well—a blog can be indispensable in acting as a repository to compile valuable resources (Baer, 2006).
Integration is a key aspect of blog sustainability. If a blog is integrated with both the writing center itself and the larger campus community, it is more likely to be seen as a key offering of the center (one that cannot simply be set aside or discontinued). In addition, when students are the audience for a writing center blog, it lends to more complete integration as the "realized public audience" (Hewerdine, 2018) is obvious with clear importance—as the goal of most writing centers is to support students at the given university. Integrated into the writing center website, linked to other social media, and used as a resource for student writers, the UCWbLING blog is sustainable in addition to being aesthetically pleasing. The blog is fully integrated into the writing center's website and provides a resource space for writers. For instance, it is obvious from the main headings that this site is focused on student readers as advice on blogging and using the posts as best practices are suggested. Many of the blog categories—such as "New Media" and "R is for Research"—are geared towards student writer concerns. Readers can also look to posts on how to write about visual rhetoric when working on e-portfolios (like a post titled "The Visual Rhetoric of Kanye West") and how to use non-biased language as they work on APA citations, for example.
The Minnetonka High School Writing Center blog is the only exemplary blog we selected that has tutor reflection as one of its central goals. However, the blog is run in a way that integrates it effectively into the training for peer writing tutors, making it active and sustainable. Each year, the blog has co-editors selected from among the tutors, who are called coaches. The blog is a place for the coaches to use writing as a medium to explore literary or cultural topics or for the writers to reflect on the value of the blog to themselves as developing writers. The blog also has other engagement opportunities; for instance, the coaches review writing spots in the local community—a clear instance of larger integration—and give them "Hemingways" (one writing location got 4 out of 5 Hemingways).
These features enable the blog to be effectively integrated into the training for these high school writing center coaches, and participation in the blog is also an important development opportunity for the students who are themselves seeking to integrate into a community of expert student writers. Recent posts from spring 2020, in their "Inspirational Iota" category, also demonstrate integration with the larger campus culture: They prompt students to write about taking a voyage outside (during the time of quarantine). Another post from January 2020, for example, offered a challenge to its readers to "write a piece in three different styles to celebrate branching out and trying new things" ("Writing Prompts," 2020). These posts show integration in that they connect to their school's writers and demonstrate awareness of their audience's writing contexts.