…without making a fool of yourself
Following the popularity of my post on How to read academic articles…and stay sane, I thought I would try to explore the subject of commenting on blogs. Obviously, I want you to comment on my blog, but this is advice that could relate to any blog or on-line discussion. I’ve come across quite a few guides on the technical aspects of commenting but none that help you with what to put in your comments. This is my attempt to fill that gap. The tips I give could also be applied to making contributions in meetings or other similarly intimidating activities.
Why don’t you comment?
My stats tell me that at least 500 people a week read this blog, but only a few comment. I really value all the people who do comment regularly or just once, but I would like to find out what stops those of you who don’t.
Why you should comment
- To make the blogger happy. It’s exciting when someone bothers to comment on something you have written. I don’t do this for financial gain (but if you were to be feeling generous…), so feedback encourages me through the uncertainty, the dark periods of writer’s block and the pain of delving into academic research. It makes it all worthwhile.
- To increase your understanding. If you read a blog post with the intention of commenting from the start, it makes you engage more thoroughly with the subject matter. You are likely to get more from it and remember it longer. Rather than wandering into your brain and leaving again soon afterwards, the ideas will settle down and start having families.
- To increase my understanding. Just because I write about stuff doesn’t always mean that I fully grasp it. Writing is part of my learning process. You may be able to share an insight that helps me to understand things even better.
- To share your wisdom / sense of humour / critical analysis / etc. with me and the other people who read the blog. Come on. Other people can benefit from what you have inside you. Don’t be shy. Don’t be selfish.
- To get a bit more out of the blogger. Not all of the interesting ideas and useful facts that uncover in my background research make it into the final post. I try to keep things concise. By making a comment you might entice me to reveal a bit more.
Actively look for an opportunity
- Make a commitment. Before you start reading, make a mental commitment to look out for opportunities to comment. If you read something actively rather than passively, you will find it easier to think of things to say.
- Note your own reactions. As you read, be aware of your own thoughts and emotional responses. Does what the blogger is talking about chime with what you believe? How does it make you feel? Excited? Confused? Uncertain? Challenged? Inspired? Bored? Intrigued? Angry?
Ask yourself some questions
Every passage you read, pause and ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I understand this?
- Is there a message?
- Do I agree with this?
- What is the point of this?
- Can I apply this to my situation?
- Can I think of an illustrative example?
- Does this remind me of anything I know about?
Choose your comment type
There are quite a few different things you can do in a comment.
- Ask questions. Here’s a question that will always work: ‘Could you tell me a bit more about X? You could also try: ‘Do you know of any other resources on this subject?‘ Another good one is: ‘Do you have any further thoughts about how this might be applied in practice?‘
- Describe. Tell me how the post made you feel. ‘This post has made me question what I do during action planning.‘ or ‘I found myself getting annoyed at what you were saying, but I’m not sure why. I might need to think about it and get back to you.‘ It’s nice to know that I’ve produced a reaction, even if it’s not favourable.
- Agree. You may not have any earth-shattering contributions or staggering insights, but if you liked the post and you concur with the ideas, say so. It’s really encouraging when people agree with you. Comments like: ‘I really enjoyed this post. I hadn’t thought about this issue before.‘ May sound trite to you, but I lap them up.
- Disagree. Obviously, the opposite also applies. In this case, you may feel more pressure to explain yourself. Actually, you don’t have be contentious or even to put together a structured argument. A good technique to use is Tentative Disagreement + Question. For example, ‘I’m not sure I agree with the point you made about X, could you expand on that please?‘
- Share examples. Whether you agree or disagree, one thing you can do is contribute examples and anecdotes from your own experience. If you are worried you can always preface your example with ‘I’m not sure if this is completely relevant but your post reminded me of…‘ or ‘I’m not sure that this is necessarily true, what about this example…‘ I can’t speak for other bloggers, but I will always respond positively to such comments.
- Suggest topics. If you would like to set me to work writing about something else — go ahead. Perhaps there is some theory you’ve never got your head around or some bit of research you’ve heard about and have been wondering if it’s relevant. ‘I was wondering if you had any plans to write about X‘ or ‘I came across this article/blog, do you think it has any relevance to careers work?‘
- Answer questions. On most of my post I try to ask a few thought-provoking questions. I don’t do this for the sake of it; I really want to hear your answers.
- Highlight resources. If you do happen to know something about the topic, please feel free to draw attention to other useful resources. My time for research is limited and I may not have encountered everything relevant. Don’t feel as if it has to be an academic reference. Other blogs, newspaper articles, YouTube and TED videos, books, television and radio programmes — they’re all good.
Finally, here’s a question:
- Is there anything I could do to make it easier for you to comment?