While some academics may be skeptical about the intellectual value of using a blog as part of their research, I have found that it has numerous benefits.
Some academics look down on blogging for research because it is goes against the conventional wisdom that the only things that matter in scholarship are peer-reviewed production: journal article, book chapters in edited collections, monographs. Scholars are concerned because we all know the weight such publications carry in annual evaluations, promotion and tenure and our overall reputations in our fields. We may reason, “If I’m going to spend my time writing, it needs to be on something that counts.”
Yes, these kinds of publications count, but they do not begin to capture the breadth of our scholarship. The process by which we engage ideas as we arrive at our brilliant conclusions is also scholarship, and blogging about our research can capture this. Kathleen Fitzpatrick notes, “When a scholar with a blog writes a bit about some ideas-in-process, receives some feedback in response, returns with further ideas, reiterates, and so on, we can glimpse once again the seriality that has always been at the heart of scholarly production.”
Blogging also documents that process. Rather than thoughts being lost in our own heads, blog posts capture our epiphanies as they occur. We rarely recognize how much intellectual labor we utilize. I find blogging to be a concrete way to capture that intellectual labor and map my own thought process. Nothing I write comes out fully polished and ready to go and that’s ok. In a piece last year for The Chronicle on Higher Education, Bruce Henderson noted what happens behind-the-scenes of scholarship production:
They do not see us reading, talking with—and listening to—colleagues, or translating new information into class notes or research ideas. They do not see us struggling to find out what is important in the overwhelming amount of new information in every discipline. Yet such consumatory scholarship is fundamental to up-to-date teaching, to the initial stages of research projects, and to institutional and community service based on expertise rather than just good intentions.
Blogging is one way to capture that consumatory scholarship. We all know you cannot write responsibly about something unless you know what’s already been written. I use blogging on my research site as a way to do that publicly. It’s helpful for me because I can see the product of my in-process thinking.
But there are other, less-discussed reasons for research blogging. Blog posts validate smaller sized articulations of our thinking. Being driven to write only journal articles or book chapters can contribute to the kind of unproductive mindset that Kerry Ann Rockquemore talks about in her essay on academic perfectionism. She asks: “Do you hold onto your drafts until you think they are perfect and only share manuscripts with others when they are in their most advanced stage?” “Do you have an intense fear of failure because it might reveal to others that you are not perfect (or have as much potential as others thought you had)?” “ Are you so fixated on the end goal of publishing your paper, receiving a grant, and/or getting stellar teaching evaluations that if you don’t meet the goal, it doesn’t even matter what happened in the process?” Positive answers to these questions may indicate a mode of perfectionism that produce ”self-defeating thoughts and behaviors that are aimed at reaching an unrealistic goal (perfection).”
I have found that blogging helps me to avoid these extreme views about my writing. It allows me to set smaller goals, and I write more. By writing shorter pieces, my writing improves in my peer-reviewed work as well.
Finally, blogging gave me a sense of control over my own work that we can lose working exclusively toward peer-reviewed publications. In exchange for the opportunity to be published, we give up the rights over our own work. This may contribute to the way academia operates an uncertain venture for some. Rockquemore notes that the academic environment is one “where there are no objective and transparent criteria for tenure and promotion, but instead a moving target of ever-escalating expectations” and “where success is largely under the control of others and rejection rates are astronomically high.”
Isn’t the ultimate goal of research to contribute to a body of knowledge that people can access? So, I decided that I would I write and publish small pieces of my research on my blog to share directly with the public: no paywalls, no passwords, no undecipherable jargon. Just the attribution will make me happy. I get to decide how others can use it through a Creative Commons license. If somebody asks me to translate a post in French, I can say yes because I exercise a measure of control over my own writing that I don’t always do in peer-reviewed publications.
It is also important to me that some of the writing I do should be the kind my family and friends can read. It was especially important for this work on Korean popular culture, because so much of my source material is in the public square and relies on the public production of others (i.e. fans) and their perceptions.
This writing has paid off I ways I could not anticipate. I have extended my academic circle and have been offered more traditional academic opportunities as a result of my blog writing. I engage with people who aren’t academics but have deep insights in my subjects. I talk to people.
Blogging our research may seem counterintuitive, but I know my traditional academic writing has benefitted as a result.
Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. “Blogs as Serialized Scholarship.” Planned Obsolescence. 12 Jul 2012. Web. 3 Mar 2013.
Henderson, Bruce B. ”Just Because We’re Not Publishing Doesn’t Mean We’re Not Working.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. 11 June 2012. Web. 3 Mar 2013.
Rockquemore, Kerry Ann. “The Cost of Perfectionism.” Inside Higher Education. 7 Nov 2012. Web. 3 Mar 2013.
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