Blogging has become a legitimate scholarly activity, and a popular one!
Many bloggers, who are also scholars in various fields, attest that blogging provides them with an important platform for engaging in scholarly conversation with their peers and also for informally publishing their research. For instance, this article, “Why do academics blog?” from The Guardian (UK) reports the results of a study that found academics blog mainly about academic culture and about research, and mostly for their colleagues.
By analysing and categorising the content of these blogs, we determined that 41% largely focused on what we call academic cultural critique: comments and reflections on funding, higher education policy, office politics and academic life. Another 40% largely focused on communication and commentary about research. The remainder covered a diverse range, from academic practice, information and self-help advice to technical, teaching and career advice.
The vast majority of blogs studied used informal essay formats and straightforward reporting styles of writing, but a significant proportion (40%) also used a formal essay style, not dissimilar to academic journal articles but with less intrusive referencing. Interestingly, given the rhetoric around blogging, 73% of the content we analysed was geared for other academics, while 38% was designed for interested professional readers.
As a means for having informal discussion about scholarly topics, a blog seems like a very good medium. One blog post by Melanie Schlosser from the OSU libraries blog identifies four main reasons to blog:
- impact–blogs can increase the impact of a person’s work by making it accessible (through Google) to those who don’t read academic journals, which is most of us. And its informality allows a writer to tell the story behind the research, humanizing it.
- engagement–blogs are findable, and that means that small communities of people interested in the same topics can coalesce around blogs. Their informality can encourage friendly and helpful back-and-forth.
- freedom–blog posts allow a person to try out weird ideas in a low-stakes environment.
- improvement–improvement in writing, that is. Writing in another style and medium can improve other forms of scholarly communication.
So, those are some of the reasons scholars blog. I like to read blogs because they feel a little more human and a little more practical, offering the interested reader the opportunity to see the relevance of scholarship to life. They also seem to require less commitment than a longer article or book–they allow me to decide if I need to read the more formal version. (Often, I do!) And, finally, they allow me to interact with the blogger, to ask questions, provide feedback, or share additional resources.
So, given that blogs are an important force in academic writing, how do you write a good academic blog entry?
1. Take an inquisitive stance. Blogs are great opportunities to be exploratory and so asking questions–and attempting to answer them based on the research available to you–is a perfectly acceptable strategy in a blog entry.
2. Embrace the medium. Blogging is a visual medium and a linking medium. Your entries can take advantage of this fact by using videos, photos, and images (credited, of course!) and by linking to your sources and other interesting, related websites. You can also reblog (see my previous entry for an example).
3. Stay focused. Blog entries aren’t papers or journal articles; keep them focused and fairly short. Saying something really interesting about a narrow topic is better than rambling over a lot of territory.
4. Open the door. Either by being very exploratory, very provocative, or simply very invitational, encourage your readers to respond to your entry with their own thoughts in the comments.
If you’ve already read a lot of scholarly blog entries, I’d be curious to know: what do you think makes for an effective scholarly blog?