WordPress for academics – Part 2

Now you have decided to build your personal academic website let’s take a look at why we are enthusiastic about the use of WordPressfor academics, and consider some of the points that need to be kept in mind as you design your site and prepare content for it. Critically, you will need to keep your site design fresh, your content current, your contact details and email address secure, your integration with social media relevant, your blog alive, and your publication list up-to-date.

Keep your design fresh

In this day and age digital design trends move quickly – a website that remains static for too long can start to look stale, no matter how well designed it is. WordPress makes it very easy to immediately transform the design of your personal academic website simply by changing the theme (“theme” is the name given to the design template or “skin” of a WordPress site). Indeed, the flexibility and convenience of themes is one of the principal reasons why we recommend WordPress for academics. There are literally thousands of WordPress themes and new ones are constantly created. Many simple themes are freely available from wordpress.org.

Themes can be quickly previewed and installed, so if you dislike a new theme or find it difficult to work with then it is a simple matter to switch back to your original design or try another: your content remains intact. For the more adventurous, premium themes are commercially available all over the net. Finally, if you have something specific in mind or are not the DIY website type, then consider hiring a professional designer to design you a custom theme.

Keep your content up-to-date

Similarly, the content of your personal academic website should be kept up-to-date. Obviously, if your contact details are no longer current, your content is years old, and your links are broken readers are unlikely to stay long. Importantly, if you are aiming to rank highly on Google for competitive reasons your content needs to be updated as frequently as possible. The ease of accomplishing this essential task is another reason for recommending WordPress for academics.

Keep your writing style and personal voice professional

Whilst it can be tempting to adopt a catchy title your readers might find it hard to take a website entitled Frog Porridge seriously ﹘ unless, perhaps, your research concerns the metamorphosis of tadpoles. Since the tone in which you write is an expression of your personality, it is probably best to avoid flippant, sarcastic or caustic comments that might alienate potential readers. It is possible using WordPress for academics to install a plugin such as Jetpack or After the Deadline which proofreads content for spelling and grammatical errors as well as for ambiguous phrases or other material that might be inappropriate.

Keep the size of your images reasonable

Although WordPress will automatically resize images for you it can be very tedious to upload large images to your website, so it is a good idea to keep the size of your upload files reasonable. It is a common misconception that the bigger an image file the better it will appear on-screen. Images have dimensions of width and height (in pixels PX) and file size (kilobytes KB or megabytes MB). You can think of these as ‘size’ and ‘weight’ if you like. Images from digital cameras or from stock photo libraries are far wider than most monitors can display, and their ‘weight’ would cause annoying delays while the large files upload or download.

When you upload an image, WordPress will automatically create:

  • a Medium Sized version (300 PX wide by default)
  • a Thumbnail (150 PX wide by default)

You can therefore always choose to use your Full Size image, or the Medium or Thumbnail. These default file sizes can be changed under Dashboard > Settings > Media. For most ‘full page’ web images, you want the image to be 80–100 KB at most. If the image is only part of a page (e.g. half the width of a blog post), then 20–30 KB is usually fine. Dropping image quality to 30-50% of the original usually doesn’t make any difference noticeable to the human eye when viewed on a computer monitor.

Integrate with Social Media

You can extend the reach of your personal academic website by making it easy for visitors to share your content via a number of social or professional networks. These include Facebook’s Like button, Twitter’s Tweet button, LinkedIn’s Share button and others. It is easy deploying these links using WordPress for academics to grow their user base, drive traffic to their websites, and get their content in front of a wide audience likely to be interested in their work. There are three such buttons at the foot of this page (achieved using a plugin called JP Sharing). If you are not a fan of social networks an alternative might be to use a plugin such as WTI Like Post which simply counts the number of likes and dislikes registered by visitors to a particular web-page.

Before including links to your own social media pages on your personal academic website consider carefully your choice of vehicle, your language and your online behaviour. It is increasingly the case that prospective employers will read your website, blog, Facebook page, etc. before deciding whether to shortlist job applicants or not. Offensive language, flames and other unguarded responses on your part will not impress critical readers and you may never know why you failed to get that phone call despite a brilliant application.

Social media integration is a big topic so if this is an area you’re interested in we have a number of articles you may like to browse here.

Keep your email address secure

Whilst it is possible to include contact details on your personal academic website you may well be nervous of making your email address public, understandably so given the prevalence of spam and the annoyance it can cause. An elegant way to enable readers to email you without actually knowing or being able to discover your email address is to employ a contact form somewhere on your website. This can be facilitated via a plugin like Contact Form 7 for WordPress, a simple and effective solution which allows you to customize the contact form and the mail contents flexibly with simple markup. If you feel additional security measures are needed, the form supports CAPTCHA, Akismet spam filtering, and other features. These tools are very straightforward to install and configure.

Include a blog and keep it alive

The first article in this series outlined a number of reasons why you might include a blog on your personal academic website. In particular, if you consider you have something to communicate via this medium that is valuable both to your readership and to yourself and if you want your readers to engage with you then a blog can be very rewarding. WordPress makes it particularly easy to incorporate a blog in your website.

Blog entries should not be posted too frequently or regularly, otherwise, this task can become burdensome and may tempt you to neglect it entirely. It’s good practice to store blogs up so that you have a few in reserve for times when you are particularly busy. WordPress can help you with this by scheduling posts.

Similarly, unless blogging is the main focus of your website, you should not spend a great deal of time writing posts. Remember that these are informal pieces that will lose a great deal of their freshness and immediacy if they are too great in length or too polished in style.

Consider disabling the facility for reader comments. A blog with few comments will tend to give new visitors a poor impression (especially if some of those comments are negative), and blogs that invite responses can occupy a great deal of your time. Finally, note that blogs are very public and they really do require maintenance: an abandoned blog is not a good look!

Keep your publication list up-to-date

A list of publications is an essential component of a personal academic website. It should be comprehensive, uniformly formatted and presented in an organised fashion, chronologically or by subject. If your publications are extensive, consider presenting your list in several parts, perhaps a short enumeration of your most recent or significant publications, followed by a complete listing. This sort of thing is most easily done using a citation manager such as Endnote, Mandeley or Zotero.

The final post in this series will look at a few plugins which will make it much easier to maintain personal websites built in WordPress for academics to undertake the necessary proofreading, link-checking, listing of publications and backing up their personal website.

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