why bother blogging?

Alice Bell, who blogs as through the looking glass, is currently doing some research on academic blogging She’s focusing particularly on people who blog about education. This post is a response to her questions. I won’t repeat the questions here ; you can find them on her site Research: education bloggers – and you might like to respond to them too.

So why do I blog? This is a question that I consider from time to time. The answer I give now is pretty different to the reasons I had when I started. For me, there is a difference between beginning and sustaining patter.

So the creation story… I began to blog as a way of putting down some ‘stuff’ that I often ended up talking about in my teaching, particularly the academic writing and research education courses and in supervision. The same things often cropped up in the academic writing workshops that I run. I thought that some of the pedagogical strategies I’d developed were worth putting down and putting out there – wherever there is. And I was pretty certain that there weren’t enough discussions about academic careers and life and these were things that a lot of people were worried about. My hunch was that it was worth trying to put some of this ‘stuff’ together.

Could I have done this in some way other than a blog? Well not really. No individual post in this blog would constitute a journal article. Overall the posts don’t amount to a book, although some of them do relate to my publications on academic writing. So the blog is a good genre and word length to write about things for which there isn’t an obvious alternative outlet.

Originally I had no idea who would actually end up reading the blog, nor how I would publicise it, although I did know that I was generally aiming for doctoral and early career researchers and other like-minded people who are interested in supporting them. So I’ve always had a reader in mind.

I don’t get paid to do this blog per se. I wouldn’t be chastised for not doing it. However I do see it as my job, specifically three things (at present):
(1) it’s a form of professing – it’s a public expression of some of the things that I work on and think about.
(2) it’s an affirmation of the academy as a gift economy, and a bit of a stand against only writing in publications that individuals or institutions have to pay for. I know I’m not alone in this, but I also know that a lot of researchers with careers to build can’t afford to be so open with their ideas. Quite frankly I have nothing to lose in career terms from putting my stuff out there.
(3) But bizarrely it now turns out that blogging is actually OK. Well who knew? Suddenly my own and other institutions think that social media is important and that blogging is a Good Thing. I’m one of a smallish group of my colleagues who blog and we are seen as some kind of leaders in the field. I don’t care about this too much but it does mean that I can talk about blogging within my own institution from a position of participation, rather than as an observer.

However none of these three things keeps me going. What does?

Well, the blog does have a much more immediate readership than any other form of writing I’ve done. People comment, they like and they subscribe. This is very affirming for me as a writer and something you don’t get in the same way from journal articles and books. There the responses are much more remote and distant; the time from the writing to the review or citation is often quite long, as opposed to the almost immediate blog response.

And the comments that people make in response to posts are often very interesting. And things happen I don’t anticipate. For example, two people who’ve commented on a post and who didn’t know each other seem to have decided to have an offline conversation between themselves as a result of a shared set of concerns that were stimulated by a post. Fantastic. So the blog has been a space which hasn’t just been mine, it’s been used by others and I’d certainly like to see more of that and have lots more unexpected things happen.

That example is just one manifestation of the connectivities that I’ve established via the blog and its connected twitterings. I’ve got to know new people and the work that they do. I’ve connected with people across disciplines and looked at their work and exchanged comments in ways that were previously unavailable to me. I’ve jointly written posts with Thesis Whisperer and we’re about to meet f2f for the first time: on the table for discussion are other possible collaborations. So that’s all really stimulating and very worthwhile.

And the blog is endlessly fascinating – I confess it’s more than a bit addictive looking at the daily blog statistics, trying to sort out what day and what time is most auspicious, what kinds of posts get read most and what posts appeal to which readership.

I must additionally confess that I worry I will run out of things to write about – but so far I’ve kept the posts going for nearly a year without that happening. So maybe the fear of blogger’s block just serves the same purpose as any other kind of self imposed deadline. Produce to pressure. I’ve been well trained to do just that, so I guess the blog now falls into that broad category of things I must and just do.

Well Alice, I know you had some other questions, but like all interviewees I’m in control of how much I say and about what. I’ve had enough of this now. Thanks for provoking me to blog about blogging and of course I’m happy to chat offline if you actually do want to follow up.

I’m also interested in hearing about other bloggers’ responses so I look forward to reading about what you’ve been told.

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About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
This entry was posted in academic writing, blogger's block, blogging, publishing, readership, research education and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to why bother blogging?

  1. Lenandlar Singh says:

    Thanks for your blog. As a beginner researcher (in every sense) , i have come to learn and grow by engaging (reading) with your blog.

  2. Zoe Lim says:

    Just want to say that I’ve been following your blog closely though you might not see me in the statistics! I’ve been reading from email subscription and I bet many others do too! Your blog is so lively that I always open the email immediately whenever I see ‘patter’ hits my mailbox (well, compared to many other ‘ought to read’ or ‘interesting’ stuff…). You have made writing sound so fun and it’s part of the reason why I do enjoy writing very much (am in my last phase of thesis write-up) when I see that as producing art rather than scientific writing!

    • pat thomson says:

      First congratulations on Getting to the Last Phase. All doctorates are a considerable achievement of self discipline as well as the intellectual and emotional work. Im pleased the blog makes sense to you. And thanks for the info about the email. I hadn’t considered that at all when thinking about the stats.

  3. M-H says:

    I think academic blogging has survived an earlier rather evangelistic phase and has now settled its contribution to academic life quite comfortably. A lot of this is due to people like you, blogging regularly and to a consistent standard, who have provided credibility to this new form of academic publication. Blog on!

  4. Hi Pat, I found your blog through Alice Bell’s article, and am delighted to see that M-H just swung by. Like you, I’ve found blogging to be a shared space. I’m really drawn to the “affirmation of a gift economy” that you mention, as I think this connects to the experience of finding traces of other travellers that we all find as we move about. So nice.

    Musing about your banner image, I realised that a year of blogging has also introduced a greater degree of creativity to my otherwise fairly dull life blithering about in the basement of strategic planning etc. I do genuinely like WP. Something as simple as the images and themes that other writers have chosen to furnish their online space can keep me thinking for a while, and I know from introducing blogging to students that this is also what engages them. It’s not a vanity exercise, I don’t think, so much as the ability to fence off a part of our online experience and expression from university corporatisation, well meaning as all that might be.

    So, short form: what I really like about reading other academic blogs is that they don’t come with the institutional brand.

    What’s the photograph?

    • pat thomson says:

      I’m resisting moving to our institutional blogging platform as are some of my other colleagues… I think I would feel constrained if I was on an official site, more mindful of the UK impact agenda and the need to be proper. Encouraging that our registrar maintains his WP blog registrarism rather than move too…
      I’ve recently changed my photo. This a snip of a creative commons pic of trinity library. It was previously flinders ranges. I don’t think ive found the right image yet.

  5. Trinity Library to Flinders Rangers and back — that’s quite the range you have there. Just curious: do you know roughly what kind of image you’re looking for? I’m asking because I recently went through a refresh of my WP theme. I wanted to keep the image I have, but make it much smaller. I don’t have CSS skills, so it came down to a choice between available designs. I found it really absorbing, and it occurred to me that this is exactly the kind of creative indecision that the institutional blogging template (complete with legal disclaimer, approved colour swatches matched to the brand personality etc) are designed to iron out. I’m just not sure I want this ironed out, so like you and registrarism I’m staying carefully out of the way.

  6. Julia says:

    Oh… I distinctly remember how the blog began.. I was very grateful for it too :) !
    It’s been fascinating watching this space evolve through time – now attracting a much more varied audience, I think.
    As to the rest, I quite like reading blogs whose writing bears the particular signature of their creator. I am not against collaborations in writing (on the contrary!) but I would much rather this blog was maintained in its current form than see your writing migrate to some more institutional platform that I am unlikely to want to engage with (and I may not be an exception in that respect…?).
    Regarding the picture, I thought the one originally featured was of Alice Springs – makes me wrong… Well, maybe it isn’t so bad for someone who has never set foot in Australia ;)
    I like the current photo – it’s aesthetically pleasing and, not just the picture, the whole blog! However, I find it a little bit austere and formal. I was going to suggest something from further afield… Ok, one I like is the idea of quipu ‘talking knots’, but It would not look terribly aesthetic on second thought… Haha, will see if something else comes to mind…
    Anyway, thank you for this platform.

  7. Vikas says:

    I honestly do not know how I ended up following you. But I remember I was referred to something in a blog and then to another blog and finally here in my course. I really enjoyed the flow of your blog and absolutely straight forward no non sense approach. I do realise I am a early researcher. Would be worth learning and sharing views with you.
    thanks

  8. Pingback: Accessing Academic Research | Nic Combe

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