The following is a guest post by Elly O’Brien. Elly is an Information Specialist who has worked on a variety systematic reviews, value demonstration and health communication projects for Bazian Ltd (part of Economist Intelligence Unit). She holds a Master’s in Library and Information Studies from University College London and is a Chartered member of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals.
The Mental Elf is a website that offers summaries of key guidance, systematic reviews and high quality research relevant to mental health. It is produced by Minervation, with the help of over 80 enthusiastic volunteer bloggers. I have been a volunteer blogger for the Mental Elf for nearly two years, in writing this blog post I wanted to raise awareness of this useful resource and share my experience of blogging.
The Mental Elf is a really useful resource for keeping up to date with key research across mental health. If you have specific areas of interest then you can look at blog posts within categories such as depression or browse across topics. The Mental Elf is also on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn making it easy to keep up with new content and to share it via your own social media accounts.
I was keen to increase my experience of different styles of writing and of critically appraising articles, so I volunteered to blog for the site. Starting blogging can seem scary, especially for someone like me who was looking to build up my skills and confidence, but the team at the Mental Elf are very supportive (more details on the website here). When you start you are given a handbook, which details the structure you should use, what content should go into each section, what the overall style/tone should be, etc. So it is quite a supportive way to write and less daunting than writing about these things by yourself. When you submit a blog the team look over it and make suggestions for changes as needed. It is interesting to see how your work is edited and improved, especially if you don’t have much experience of writing for publication. I have found that looking at the changes they’ve made to my posts has helped me to improve my writing and to reflect on my writing style.
When submitting your post, you can do so as a Word document or you can upload your content directly onto WordPress. So it’s a good way to get experience of using a blog content management system like WordPress, obtaining images for the blog, thinking about layout etc. The team have also run critical appraisal workshops for their bloggers to provide more formal training. Whilst they can’t offer expenses etc to attend, it’s worth it to learn from experienced appraisers, especially given how much critical appraisal training can cost!
When critically appraising articles, one problem many people face with is that they simply don’t do it enough, or often enough. So writing Mental Elf blog posts provides you with a way to ensure that every month or so you are reading a research paper with your critical appraisal hat on. When you volunteer you are asked to express areas of interest so the team can allocate relevant research to you. Another bonus is that it exposes you to a wide range of different research methodologies, which you might not otherwise come across. Again, this is supportive so if you’d rather cover pretty standard RCTs at first, then that’s fine and you can move onto more complex research when you feel ready.
Blogging for the Mental Elf also gives you the chance to get involved in conversations about research with lots of other people. The team usually contact the study authors to get their comments on the blog post and its large followings on various social media mean there’s a good amount of discussion and buzz around each post. I’ve had really interesting discussions with authors about their research, for example where I’ve picked up on limitations they’ve explained the background as to why that was the case. This is invaluable insight into the research process and I enjoy speaking to prominent researchers (and other interested commentators) about the intricacies of their research. These conversations have led to me following loads of interesting people on Twitter and then being able to get into further conversations with them.
The Mental Elf also gives you an individual author page where all your blogs can be found (here’s mine), I’ve added a link to mine on my LinkedIn profile and have previously pointed to it for examples of my writing.
So all in all, writing for the Mental Elf is great because you’re contributing to a great resource, helping to disseminate and communicate research, being part of interesting discussions and getting valuable critical appraisal/writing experience.
If you need any further persuasion, here’s what some of my fellow bloggers had to say about what they’ve got out of blogging for the Mental Elf:
Patrick Kennedy-Williams, trainee clinical psychologist and UEL alumnus!
“Blogging for The Mental Elf has taught me how to read between the lines, and to discern good research practice from bad. For psychologists, this is nothing short of essential. Not only had it been a fantastic resource from a user perspective, it has been a great experience for me at the early stages of my career.”
Laurence Palfreyman, Assistant Psychologist
“The blog has been a really helpful go to place when I’ve needed to write essays or check that my clinical practice is in keeping with the latest research. Contributing to it has made me pay much closer attention to methodology and have a good ponder about what a particular study really means in the messy real world of mental health!”
Kirsten Lawson, Consultant Liaison Psychiatrist and Clinical Lead for Liaison Psychiatry Services
“I never considered much of a ‘writer’ per se and even less of an ‘academic’ Psychiatrist; teaching and clinical work being my clear interests. What blogging has allowed me to do (with the support and structure of The Mental Elf) is demystify wordy, academic pieces into useful, clinically applicable information for anyone to use. Throwing in a little humour and music can also makes it a little more human!”
For more information about blogging for the Mental Elf, see the website.