In this second part of our series on creating a successful academic project site, we’ll take a look at some of the practical steps that you can take in planning phase of your project to maximise your outcome.
As we mentioned in the previous post, it’s very important to consider your target audience – are you shooting for an information source, or a scholarly hub? Be sure to spend some time thinking this through before considering the points here!
Think carefully about a name
Academics love long, complex, and often tongue-in-cheek titles for their articles, books and essays – of course there’s nothing wrong with that, but these kinds of names don’t often play well in the digital realm.
Let’s take a (totally made up, as far as were aware) academic type title “Understanding Richard III : Humpback or Hero?”. While that sounds quite interesting as an academic article, its problematic from a digital project point of view.
First, let’s bear in mind that most people are going to be finding your output via a search engine – regardless of your target group, academic or non, you need to work with a title which will contain some relevant keywords for your site and will jump out to potential users.
Secondly, it sounds like an written work – not a digital project! People use library directories or shopping searches for books, but they search google, bing and yahoo for interactive projects. Make sure you’re your project name clearly labels it as an interactive project.
Considering the above, while the original work which spawned the project may well have been “Understanding Richard III : Humpback or Hero?” a digital project based on this study might be better named “Richard III – Documents online” or “The life of Richard III” . Both contain relevant keywords which people search for on google, and both clearly mark the project out as a good source of information. Remember, when browsing a search engine people only get a title, a url and a snippet of meta text to make their choice of site!
Look for competition
By far one of the greatest benefits of working in the academic sphere is the ability to see online competition as both a potential support system, as well as a challenge. The fact is, were still so early on in the digital movement that the majority of academic projects are still breaking new ground with no direct competition – this means that similar sites can be an excellent source of all important links, but also serve as at least a guideline of what might work for your project.
At Volant, we don’t spend hours of client time on moodboards and mind maps – instead we like to seek out similar projects, and discuss what we like and what we don’t like. Taking this kind of approach when panning your own site. Doing so will enable you to write a much more convincing proposal with some concrete suggestions about how your project might end up looking and who you can reach out to for support.
In some cases, it might be possible to reach out to other projects for help and advice – while this won’t always be possible you’re more likely to get a friendly answer in the academic world than outside it!
Start writing some of your content
For some, this seems an obvious point – for others, its considered an ineffective use of time. There’s certainly a methodological debate around this point, but there’s real value in producing at least a few items of content up front.
Creating even a few articles, blog posts, database entries (or whatever your project will showcase) allows you to get to grips with how your content might actually look and work on a finished site. By going through this process you will normally come up with additional requirements which would be desirable for your project – knowing this before you submit your funding application is a major advantage!
Consider the next phase
Fair enough – it’s a bit premature to be thinking about expanding a project that does not yet exist, but again, a bit of forethought can go a long way in the present. Having a rough idea of possibilities for expansion can work in your favour in terms of funding (this person has direction, and this project has longevity) and also from a technical standpoint.
There’s often steps which can be taken when designing a site to build in the requirements for future functionality, at little or no extra cost. This can mean that adding functions down the line will be both quicker and cheaper – both of which are bound to earn you brownie points with the department.
Join us next time for a discussion of the 5 biggest academic website mistakes!