It has been an interesting past couple of months reading through the (literally) hundreds of academic blogs that have been plastered all over the internet. If you are curious as to how popular it is, I would encourage you to simply type in “ Academic Blog” into your nearest search engine and watch it explode ( metaphorically that is). Though one of the first curiosities that I stumbled across is that the very nature of informal blogging is that there are very few rules or regulations that dictate what makes a blog apply to a certain genre aside from content. I found myself asking “ What is an academic blog, and why do some professional chose to set them up?”. With that in mind I had quite a few questions concerning what an academic blog is and what differentiates it from other forms of blogging. In an attempt to bring some definition to this subject, I have compiled a small list of reasons and concerns that I found were common topics for bloggers who identified as working in academic fields. While the ensuing post is in no way comprehensive, there are quite a few good points that have been made as to what you should consider in thinking about starting a blog about your professional life.
Perhaps the most salient questions I kept encountering in my reading are really the most simple ones. Why should academics blog? What are the benefits? Are they enough to outweigh the time investment that generally go into having to maintain a blog site properly? There have been some very compelling arguments made by people who are much more qualified then myself, but here are some of the general points that have been made.
1) Blogging is a great way to create and sustain a public profile.
Wether you are an undergrad, grad student, Phd candidate or tenured professor, blogging is an extremely effective way to generate interest in your research. In an earlier post I wrote on Daniel Little’s assertion that blogging is transforming academic progress from the Cathedrals to the Bazaars – which is to say from the strictly academic settings into public conversation – and I think that this metaphor is incredibly pertinent. Part of the benefit of summarizing your work for online publication is that it is subjected to interaction from people literally all over the world. It also establishes a track record and begins building a portfolio around your research. While some may choose to stay away from this style of public interactions, other academics, especially in the Humanities and Sciences, have found it to be a great way to interact with a diverse array of opinions. Furthermore guest blogging has increasingly been used as a means of injecting professional opinions into a more public sphere. Some people may rail against the idea of thrusting a traditionally conservative institution into the limelight, but it has proven to be incredibly effective. Doubt my last statement? Just ask the likes of Neil Degrasse Tyson.
Actually there was a nice article posted in The Guardian by John Gallagher back in 2012 about the benefits of creating a public persona for research. In it he states:
A lot of comment on this debate misses one simple, crucial fact: the cat’s already out of the bag. The new generation of [academics], far from waiting for Penguin and the BBC to come to call, are actively using blogs, Twitter, and even stand-up comedy to reach a far wider audience than their predecessors might have dreamt of. It’s not just recent PhDs doing this – witness the multimedia dynamo that is Mary Beard – but it’s hard to deny that the younger generation’s media literacy has given them an increased ability to enthrall an interested public.
And it’s good for research, too. Dr Lindsey Fitzharris created The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice, a blog about the history of surgery which allows her to merge her academic interests with a desire to reach a wider public. She says that, as well as making people more interested in some fascinating but little-known material, the blog “has forced me to think about my own work from the perspective of a non-specialist”, inspiring “new and interesting ways to think about my research.
2) Blogging can be a natural extension of work rather than an added chore.
One of the beautiful things about blog posting is that it is not subjected to the same strict regulations of more formal academic writing. In fact some may argue that blogs are not subjected to any rules at all. The benefit of such low key standards is that they allow you to do just about anything you please with your blogs. As a result of this, blogging can become a natural extension of your work.
For one, blogging allows you to post and keep track of the work that you are currently engaged in. Think of it as a public ( or private) notebook by which you can post the things you have been reading while adding in short summaries from time to time. It also helps connect you to other individuals who may be using the same material for completely different reasons. Either way it serves two distinct purposes. To log and summarize the research that you are doing and to provide possible avenues for others to engage with your work in a meaningful way. The argument for this is simple really. Wether you choose to do this publicly or privately – blogging is a simple way of amalgamating and tracking your research over a prolonged period of time. It also allows for near ubiquitous access.
Another useful facet of blogging is that it allows you to broadcast your work to specific groups of individuals. Allow me to clarify – there is a difference to be found between public and private blogging. Public blogging is postings that are open to the word to see. Private blogging is a form of work that is specifically limited to certain groups of individuals. For instance, a professor could use a blog to share lecture notes with his classroom, address frequently asked questions, or provide a means of explaining difficult concepts more fully without having to take away from class time. Blogging provides a platform for engaging with students that can be saved, replicated and refined over the course of several years, which in turn can save quite a bit of time.
Another great source on tips for successful academic blogging is this blog here.
3. Blogging Increases Digital Literacy
Over the course of my undergrad degree I have given several lectures on why digital literacy is more important than ever. By digital literacy I simply mean the ability to meaningfully interact, understand and utilize new forms of technology. For perhaps a more holistic understanding of the term I would suggest you check out this blog. For many users, blogging is a relatively gentle means of getting your feet wet in a more technologically oriented fashion in your career and it often leads to a greater understanding of digital trends as a whole.
In terms of academic purposes, blogging can transform itself into a gateway for interconnecting between various medias and styles of research…. ( While I was writing these blog series I quickly found myself picking up all kinds of incidentally related facts along the way such as embedding RSS feeds, html coding basics…..understanding and incorporating different kinds of media into my work ( ie youtube video’s pictures ect) and logging bibliographic information) … I quickly found that the more I blogged, the more I discovered different ways to blog. One idea led to another and in short order I realized that the process of blogging forced me into waters that were different than what I expected.
Another critical aspect of digital literacy is it promotes an increased ability to evaluate and cross-reference content. With a few quick google searches I was quickly finding out who some of the leading experts in various fields across the world were. In turn, their blogs often referenced the work of other academics which they had found meaningful or influential. Very quickly I was able to create frameworks for understanding what some of the more salient topics were in a given field and who the most helpful people to reference were when looking at any given subject ( Ie: While writing a history paper last term, I was able to compile a very comprehensive bibliography on my particular subject by paying attention to authors and works that were commonly cited the most). A long story short is that for the nature of most blogs they are designed to deliver short bursts of information quickly. This can be extremely useful in developing and expanding a body of research quickly.