Bulletin July 2023 Number 203

So why write a blog? What is the point of these ramblings when you don’t know if anyone will ever read them or pay them any regard? You could be just screaming into the void. In this article, College blogger Chris Tiplady takes us through his process for writing a successful blog.

I have been a Director of Medical Education and am now programme lead for the Master's in Medical Education Programme at the University of Sunderland. I help coordinate a lot of teaching, a lot of training and I talk a lot about how people learn.

Finding inspiration

I got the urge to write some time ago now; I really don’t know exactly where it came from. I envy the authors who can craft hundreds of pages, weaving complex characters into worlds of their own creation. I just notice things and want to write about them because I realise other people notice them too; topics that seem relevant, images that make me think and stories to share. It’s like having a recipe in my head that needs writing down or it will be lost.

Writing makes me think; it makes me spend time examining my thoughts and assumptions. Putting words onto paper and sharing them with others also means they can challenge my exposed inner workings. You have to choose the word, phrase or story that helps make sense, joins the dots or provides a new insight. We all make mistakes, yet we have the most phenomenal ability as humans – we can read and then learn from others.

My hope for the blogs I write is that at least one person reads them and they help them in some way to have an easier time. It is a very public reflection and probably the closest I will get to any mindfulness of any sort. I was really fortunate to be asked to write a regular blog for the College. Looking back over them all has given me a chance to reflect on what has worked and what hasn’t over the 3 years. I don’t think I am an expert but I can share a few ideas if you are thinking of starting to write one.

Who are you writing on behalf of?

Firstly, don't put your foot in it. You may have been asked to write by an organisation, a journal or a business. If it is on behalf of someone else, then they will have editorial control over the final version and may change a few things about your blog without losing the message. They may not want you to be controversial, they may suggest topics or give you a word limit. All normal.

They will format it and make it readable. You could be writing for other reasons though. You may want to share something you are going through, an illness, a crisis or a new role. Maybe you are travelling the world, cooking, photographing, inventing, making stuff or just riding a bike to work. You might have worked out the best route, the practicalities and want to share your tips. You might even want to become rich and famous on TikTok. In these situations, you have to be a bit practical…

How will it be published?

If someone has asked you – they will handle this.

If you are writing for yourself, then there are dozens of free blog publishing sites you can use such as WordPress, Wix, Blogger, LinkedIn or a Twitter thread. All these sites have tutorials and blogs on blogging. You could start by following other blogs, reading a variety, seeing what they post, how they post and how they get others to read theirs.

Putting your writing in the public arena will make you concentrate much harder on the words you use and what you write about. Somebody somewhere will be interested or going through the same things as you. Somebody, somewhere might also disagree very strongly with you. There is no doubt there will be lots to write about, but blogs are not books, they are more like very short stories, a 5-minute read, so you need to…

Choose a single topic per blog

Do not attempt to write about too many things. A couple of points well-made will usually be better. You are the expert in your content. Write about what you know really well, the things that get your creative juices flowing. Being consistent across several blogs is more likely to get you a regular readership than if you skip about randomly. Write about things that are personal and relevant and make sure you…

Write in your own voice

This is me; this is what I sound like. You could have an image and maybe even a voice in your head as you read this. I am not trying to be anything other than me. I am being careful what I write though, as this is for someone else. I can't correct badly phrased statements that you misinterpret.

I consider all my sentences; I write, I pause, I close my laptop and leave it a day or 2. It's amazing how drafts change with a little time. Writing still doesn't come naturally to me. I use too many words and need heavy editing. I am not short of topics though…

Keep a list of things that might work for a blog

The College has asked me to write blogs about professionalism, a potentially dry subject. I like relating real stories and examples to professionalism. I am forever hearing or seeing things I think would turn into a good short blog to do this. As an example, I was chatting with medical students just a few days ago. One of them said she wanted to help new students settle into hospitals as they start clinical training, the routine, the people and to tell them that “wards smell funny”. Instant blog topic, good title, lots to build on. Write it down before you forget. I see so many clinical situations that I could write about, but…

Remember social media guidance

As a doctor with a really odd surname, I am very identifiable. Doesn't take much detective work to see where I am employed and what I do. I see a lot of patients and their relatives and inevitably there are situations I want to write about. These have to wait, have to change and have to be completely anonymised. Or I write about cycling instead.

The General Medical Council has published guidelines for medical professionals on social media. Have a look. I hope one day to write a book. In my head there is a Terry Pratchett, Carl Sagan or Douglas Adams trying to escape. I read science fiction and fantasy and love the long series that take you to other worlds. The kind of books that you close and almost disappointedly realise you are still on earth.

In fact, I reckon a bit of sci-fi healthcare daftness could make a really good blog topic one day.