Author: Sam Brady, 18th May 2022

Over the last two years, blogging has become an important part of my PhD experience. Throughout this period, I feel like I have really expanded on my abilities as a writer and researcher and have been able to feed these skills back into writing my thesis. Further, I really valued the chance to research topics that otherwise did not fit into my PhD topic focus. However, I have decided to take a step back from monthly blogging to focus more on my thesis writing, so I thought it might be nice to tie off this period of work with a reflective blog about the value of this practice, and what I have learnt from it.

I began blogging for the National Paralympic Heritage Trust (NPHT) as a way to connect with the museum. Working with the NPHT was intended to be a large part of my PhD due to the studentship’s focus on collaborative work between university and heritage institutions. However, these plans were spoiled early on in the project, as restrictions related to the Covid-19 pandemic prevented any in-person work I could have done with the museum or archives. Thankfully, in May 2020 the NPHT’s CEO, Vicky Hope-Walker, suggested blogging as a means for me to connect with the museum on a regular basis. Through monthly blogs, I was able to share aspects of my research with the Trust’s team and audience, as well as drawing on the NPHT’s digital resources. This practice has been invaluable to my ongoing PhD, from familiarising myself with the NPHT’s resources, to gaining useful experience in writing for new audiences. This has had a big impact on my approach to writing: You’ll notice that my blogs initially started out very academic in style, gradually becoming less formal!

Nevertheless, blogs became a good source of writing practice, even if they were not formal academic pieces. One of the biggest hurdles for students and researchers can be the advice ‘just start writing.’ This is important advice, as it often feels better to keep reading and researching. For some, to beginning writing may feel like closing the option to research and continue to develop thoughts. In truth, writing is a key part of the thought development process, as (at least for me) ideas and approaches will come together as I try to explain concepts on the page. Writing can accordingly be a daunting practice, particularly when it is hard to imagine how to start a large piece of work. For me, the practice of monthly blogging became an effective exercise in challenging my approach to writing, encouraging myself to get ideas down as I had them. I found, unsurprisingly, having something down was a better starting point than nothing at all. And this isn’t to say that I still don’t struggle with this, but simply that the experience has provided more opportunities to flex the planning, writing and editing muscles, which developed my style and approach.

Further, I found blogging to be a great way to ruminate on ideas that had caught my interest. For instance, the blog concerning economic access to wheelchairs was a concern that had been bubbling in my mind since the early months of the PhD. I was not sure how to include it, but I used the crossover date with UK Disability History Month that year as an excuse to explore the topic in more detail. However, after writing the blog and conducting more research, I found ideas that I considered to be important to my ongoing thoughts and approaches. Blogging therefore provided a great way to develop my thinking, specifically as I didn’t originally see it as part of my larger research project and therefore didn’t put as much pressure on myself when compiling the writing. Moreover, I was able to reflect on a range of topics in blogs, beyond what I could have included in my thesis. This ranged from in-depth research about random objects in the archives, such as a Hanukkiah or briefcase, to reflections on the use of social media and oral history in my research. I have been lucky to have free control over the content and focus of my blogs, and accordingly was able to explore lots of different topics that were of interest to me (and hopefully my blog's readers!).

Nevertheless, I should highlight some of the struggles with this process. By far the biggest struggle was one of time and energy, as during some months it was much harder to get a finished blog out than others. This was largely due to other commitments and pieces of work, as it is hard to research and write about multiple subjects simultaneously. Sometimes, topics for my blogs were shared with another piece of work I was undertaking, such as a blog considering whether technological development was a product of competition or co-operation between athletes (which has since also been incorporated in my thesis), or efforts to advertise other work I had done, like a podcast. In some ways, this can be seen as a good thing, as it encouraged me to be mindful of my work and think about multiple uses for smaller pieces of research. It also contextualised my ongoing PhD research with other opportunities I had taken on, for anyone who was paying attention. Nevertheless, it was a good lesson in helping me know how much I could take on at once, and it encouraged me to be creative in what I chose to focus on each month.

Over the last two years, 24 blogs (including this one) have been published on the NPHT’s website, and I am proud of the variety of topics covered. Naturally, many were focused on sporting wheelchair technology by nature of my thesis research. However over the last 6 months, I was particularly excited to work with the NPHT and WheelPower Collections directly, as I wrote about in a blog about a rulebook from the 1980s. The ‘From the archives’ series allowed me to really dig into a number of historical narratives and expand my knowledge of the wider history of the Paralympics and disability sport in the UK. I picked topics for these blogs based on what I had recently found in the archives, or thoughts that had occurred as I assisted with cataloguing. I was able to reflect on the process of cataloguing and preservation, and the experience has made me excited to continue thinking about archives holistically, as opposed to as a sum of their contents. Further, I felt like it allowed me to, in a small way, show how interesting and varied these collections are. Trust me when I say that I only scratched the surface!

From my experience, I would highly recommend blogging as a form of writing development and research practice. I would suggest blogging to be particularly good for training reflexivity for researchers and students, as often the ways in which researchers conduct research, or relate to its content, is more interesting or important than the topic itself. Blogging (in this form) is inherently more personal than formal research, providing the author ample space to consider themselves as part of the research process. In this way, I feel like the experience of regular blogging has made me a better writer and researcher.