Why Blog? What makes for a good post?

A central feature of this course will be the writing we do on this site. In what follows, I will outline three things:

  • a rationale for why I ask you to blog in the first place, rather than write traditional essays
  • a quick primer on how to create your first post
  • a simple rubric to guide your writing + an example of a good-looking post

First things first: why blog?

  1. Blogging is sharable: rather than have a private circuit between you and me, we have a much more dynamic conversation across the entire class.
  2. Blogging is public, sort of: I like the idea that we are responsible for our ideas in front of broader audiences. In practical terms, I doubt anyone is listening in most of the time, but I think it’s important that we roll up our sleeves and defend our arguments in an open and public forum as often as possible. And of course, you can show your family/friends/pets what we’ve been up to in class. For those who have reservations about privacy, note that a) I have configured the blog to request that Google et al. not crawl it, limiting the number of casual visitors; and b) you are free to delete your posts at the end of class. If anyone has serious reservations despite all this, feel free to contact me: I respect anyone’s concerns on this topic and take very seriously your (our) control over our intellectual work and data.
  3. Blogging is sturdy: rather than forget the piece of paper once it’s been handed back, we can link back to prior statements or observations, or to each others’. If you like, you can leave your posts up for future 720ers to see.
  4. Blogging is responsive: rather than only getting comments from me, you’ll comment on and get comments on each other’s work.

So how do you post? Once you get enrolled as an “author” on the site, it’s really easy. Here’s a step-by-step with screen shots from Evan Cordulack at William and Mary. I’ll also note that WordPress gives you several other ways to initiate a post, so feel free to explore the dashboard and find your own best way.

What makes for an excellent post? For this class, posts should:

  • contain at least 500 words (use word count in WordPress or your word processor)
  • explain a given text’s argument (for secondary readings) or analyze its form and themes (for primary readings by Melville), using quotations and paraphrases of the text with page numbers in parentheses
  • engage a text critically, noting its limitations, its links to other texts we’ve read, its unstated assumptions, etc.

Here’s a simple rubric, adapted from Mark Sample, that I will use to evaluate your work (see how the academic blogosphere encourages sharing and exchange? I told you so!):

Rating Characteristics
4 Exceptional. The post is focused and coherently integrates examples with explanations or analysis. It moves beyond summary to engage the text critically, articulating weak points or dubious assumptions (for secondary texts) or giving a sharp, original close reading (for primary texts). It makes useful connections to other texts and raises novel questions.
3 Satisfactory. The post is reasonably focused, and explanations or analysis are mostly based on examples or other evidence. It provides a compelling summary of an argument (or dutiful reading of primary text) but fails to engage the argument/text more than glancingly. The entry reflects moderate engagement with the topic and/or rehashes what was said in class.
2 Underdeveloped. The post is restricted to summary, without consideration of alternative perspectives, and may contain misreadings of the argument at one or more points. The entry reflects passing engagement with the topic.
1 Limited. The journal entry is unfocused, or simply rehashes others’ comments; it fails to grasp fundamental aspects of the argument.
0 No Credit. The journal entry is missing or consists of one or two disconnected sentences.

Last but not least, here’s an example of a good-looking post. It’s not perfect–no such thing–but it is a high 3-low 4 in terms of the above. It paraphrases and quotes the text frequently, takes a stab when it isn’t quite sure what the (very difficult) text is getting at, and it speculates on how the text (written in the 1930s) might relate to our own moment and the study of “digital humanities.” Extra bonus: you too will be reading Benjamin’s essay soon!


How to post on this blog

Just wanted to give a quick guide to posting on WordPress for newbies. It’s super easy once you figure it out the first time. So here goes:

1. LOG ON: anyone can see the blog site, but only those logged on as “authors” can post. If you simply click on the link you received when I invited you and join the Commons, you should able to log in as an “author” with permission to post. Two helpful hints:

a) you can always tell when you’re logged in, since there’s a slim black bar across the top that looks like this:

Screenshot 2015-02-06 14.06.48

and b), if you ever want to go straight to the “back end” of the site (called the “dashboard” in WP parlance), throw “admin” on the end of the URL. So, allred720fa18.commons.gc.cuny.edu takes you to the site, whereas allred720fa18.commons.gc.cuny.edu/admin takes you to the “dashboard.” Try it.

2. START A POST: there are several ways to post. Here’s the easiest: click the <+ NEW> icon in the top middle of the screen and select “post.” It looks like this:

Screenshot 2016-01-27 22.00.33

3. WRITE SOMETHING: “New Post” will take you to a basic text editor. So write something. If you want to get fancy, you can add italics, bold, indentation, insert images or other media, and whatnot. But most of the time you’ll just try to write some reasonable sentences. When you’re done, click PUBLISH on the right (see image below). Or, if you’re not quite ready, you can save it as a draft and reopen it later, via the “POSTS” section of the dashboard. Helpful hint: WordPress autosaves your work every few seconds, so it’s very, very rare to lose stuff. Nonetheless it’s not a bad idea to compose posts on a word processor and then paste them into WP just in case. I personally live dangerously most of the time and have never lost anything, but your call.

We’re good, right? Happy blogging.