Dissemination practices for research are changing. Increasingly, blogging is being taken seriously as a form of writing about academic issues and scholarly research. There are advantages in publishing ideas in blogs: blogging is generally a much faster process than publishing in books and journals; the posts reach out to audiences who do not have access to expensive subscription journals or libraries housing books; posts are often focused on very specific topics that might not be sufficient for a full article; and comments on blogs allow for more direct dialogue between readers and authors. These elements do not replace careful, scholarly consideration of the issues being presented; rather, they encourage a dynamic exchange of ideas that can create an active, engaged community of thinkers and practitioners. At least, this is our experience of writing a group blog, DoctoralWriting SIG.
We have blogged together since 2012. In a year we each contribute around 15 posts of about 800 words each to our academic blog, DoctoralWriting SIG. In quantity, that is about the equivalent of two articles annually. We review each other’s posts critically, and few go up without some change; in this sense the posts are peer reviewed. For each of us, the blog is arguably the research writing we do that has the most impact—our ideas get out fast, and we have about 2,000 followers from around the world. And yet it is also more personal than most of our formal academic publication. The blog is a space where we can reflect on previous research as well as venturing to try new ideas. But can we include DoctoralWritingSIG posts as publications in our formal workload or research outputs?
Academic blogging is a relatively new medium for research publication, and is not yet fully integrated into the university system. Academics in many countries are obliged to publish their research, which is then strictly audited by national bodies such as the Performance-Based Research Fund (PBRF) in New Zealand; Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA); and the Research Excellence Framework (REF) in the UK. In these systems, we are mindful that our work is judged on criteria such as the number of substantial publications, where our research has been published (journal ranking, quality of publishing press), its impact and the number of citations. It’s not clear yet where academic blogs sit in terms of publication ranking, nor whether we will get proper credit for this kind of research publication. Nevertheless, we personally have found the writing we undertake for our blog to be very useful in a number of ways, and would still encourage others to experiment with this kind of research writing.
Learning about writing
We’ve all learnt a lot about writing by producing this blog together. Feedback received from each other has helped us see our work through more objective eyes; observing the writing processes of our co-editors has also taught us a great deal about how other people go about doing their writing, introducing us to new ways of approaching our task. Writing weekly posts about writing helps us to remain focused on our own writing practices and beliefs, keeping that knowledge fresh and alive for our work with students and academics in workshops and programs.
Learning about our readers: staying relevant
We’ve gained in confidence about saying what we think in a more conversational style than we might in journal articles. We are also invigorated by the comments that our readers make on the topics we raise—responses that are far more immediate than the feedback most of us receive on other publications in journals and books. This keeps us more directly in touch with our audience, helping us to tweak our focus to speak to that community and ensuring that we are in close contact with the concerns of our readers. It reminds us that when we write as academics, we do it for other real people who have lives a bit like our own—in other forms of academic publishing, that awareness of readers as peers and colleagues rather than gatekeeping reviewers often gets lost. Comments generally endorse our points of view, reminding us that we are not lone wolves and that others care about the same things that we do; at other times they push us to think about ideas from different perspectives, teaching us more about the issues at stake.
As well as learning about writing, we have found that writing the blog has enhanced our own development as academic developers and writing teachers. Some comment made in a workshop might trigger reflection on the tensions it raised; providing feedback on a student’s work might prompt a new idea about doctoral writing. These short pieces allow us to explore ideas that arise in our everyday working lives, but previously were often lost under the pressures of the next task waiting on our timetables. Now we latch onto those moments of irritation, confusion, concern, excitement that appear in our teaching and reading, taking the opportunity to reflect carefully on these responses and push our own thinking further.
But perhaps most satisfying of all, we have found that this kind of writing has created an opportunity to work with like-minded scholars in a collaborative manner. Our original purpose was to build a community of people who are interested in all aspects of doctoral writing. The blog has facilitated our own access to developing collegial relationships with academics around the world who share a fascination with this complex aspect of higher education. Even though it creates extra work, we’ve found the process of blogging about our ideas and experiences has been very beneficial and would encourage others to take part in this kind of academic activity.
Some of the ideas presented here are explored in more detail in our article: Cally Guerin, Susan Carter & Claire Aitchison (2015): Blogging as community of practice: lessons for academic development?, International Journal for Academic Development, DOI: 10.1080/1360144X.2015.1042480.