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Arguments against scholarly blogging

This is the second post in a series about scholarly blogging. The first post explored the reasons why scholars choose to share their work via blogs. This one is looking at some common arguments against it. Those arguments can be summed up as: overloadstealing and scooping, nothing to say, and exposure.

Image by GrungeTextures on flickr, CC-BY-NC

Image by GrungeTextures on flickr, CC-BY-NC

Disclaimer: I’m biased. I think that scholarly blogging is a good thing, and that more academics should do it. I’m bringing up some arguments against blogging partly so I can refute them. That said, it’s important to think about the possible downsides of so public an activity. Some of them can be avoided; the ones that can’t…well, at least you were warned.

Overload

“…Scholars need to make everything they do count in multiple ways: those blog book reviews can become the foundation of essay reviews or serve as literature reviews for new articles. They can also act as brief and searchable notes for teaching purposes that help to maintain a critical and cutting-edge classroom. Similarly, brief critical reflections on recent articles and books can develop with time into abstracts for conferences and workshops, which can become the basis for further grant applications or new articles.” – Stephen T. Casper, Why Academics Should Blog: A College of One’s Own

I have yet to meet an academic – librarian or teaching faculty, adjunct or graduate student – who isn’t ridiculously overworked. The thought of blogging, on top of teaching, advising, committee work, and the bits of life you can squeeze in between them, can feel overwhelming. Blogging does take time. (For academics who are used to scrubbing and polishing their every word, it can take more time than maybe it should.) Also, as Lucinda Matthews-Jones points out, the folks who are most often told to blog are frequently those least established in their careers, who have the most pressure on their time already.

One strategy for dealing with the overload issue lies in seeing blogging not as one more task on the pile, but as a tool for helping with it. As Stephen Casper points out in the quote above, blog posts can be repurposed to support teaching and research. The time you carve out for blogging may feel like it is cutting into other activities, but, done right, it can save time or increase productivity elsewhere.

Stealing and scooping

“All work should be original and previously unpublished. Essays or presentations posted on a personal blog may be accepted, provided they are substantially revised.” Guidelines for Authors, The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy

This is really three different issues.  The first comes down to a judgment call, the second needs some legwork, and the third requires you to pay attention to the things you sign.

First, what if you put your ideas out there and someone steals them? I suspect this is not as common as people think, but you probably have a sense of how big a danger this is in your field. Even if you decide this is an issue, there are probably topics you could safely blog about. It’s a judgment call.

The second issue is self-scooping. What if you blog about your research, and then write it up as a journal article? Will the editors consider the blog to be prior publication and reject your submission out of hand? Again, it depends on your field and the publication, but this one doesn’t have to be all guesswork. If you know early on where you want to publish, contact the editor and ask about their policy on prior publication. It never hurts to ask, and you may be surprised what you learn.

The third issue is self-plagiarism or copyright infringement, and it mostly comes into play when blogging about an already published piece of work. Depending on how draconian your publishing agreement was, you may have signed away your rights to re-use the work in all but the narrowest contexts. Since journal articles and blog posts are – or should be – very different, this isn’t usually a problem, but the next time you sign a copyright transfer or publishing agreement, make sure to look at the fine print with regards to re-use of text, data, and graphics.

Nothing to say

“I know that blogging has taught me to look at the world around me as a mine for ideas, and I’ve become much better at extracting them.” – Michelle Parrinello-Cason, 5 Ways Blogging Has Made Me a Better Scholar

Again, you know best whether you have something to blog about. That said, if you’re an academic, you write, and think, and teach others to write and think, for a living. If you think you have nothing to blog about, you are probably viewing your writing life through a narrow lens. Instead of looking at a blog as another ‘publishing’ platform, try looking it as a conversation – do you have something to talk about? Are you thinking about something that might interest someone else? As Michelle Parrinello-Cason points out in the quote above, blogging can help you look at your work differently. Sometimes, the more you write, the more you have to say.

Exposure

“…I have to admit that it makes me slightly uneasy to see my random jottings here subjected to the same kind of detailed critique that one would normally reserve for scholarly books and peer-reviewed articles.” – Mark Goodacre, Peer-reviewed article responding to a blog post: What is the etiquette?

If you’ve spent five minutes reading blog comments, you know that not all engagement is kind and constructive. Blogs that attract comments (a relatively small subset of the blogosphere) attract negative comments, ranging from childish trolling to biting critiques. The former can be easily weeded out, while the latter can be used to improve the ideas being developed on the blog. At the very least, they provide an opportunity to develop a thicker skin and handle criticism gracefully – valuable traits in an academic setting where peer review is the accepted modus operandi.

The quote above is in response to a slightly different situation. Dr. Goodacre recently found that a blog post of his had been critiqued, in detail, in a peer-reviewed scholarly article. His exploration of his own feelings on the subject makes for interesting reading, but it also points out the unsettled nature of the social norms around scholarly blogging. How should blog posts be treated by other scholars? Should they be cited? Are scholars who blog adding an entry in the scholarly record without the benefits of peer review and extensive editing? (For another take on whether scholars should cite blog posts in scholarly articles, see Jenny Davis’ excellent post on the LSE Impact Blog.) Until these issues are settled, scholars who blog need to be comfortable with a certain amount of uncertainty and exposure.

Next time…

The next post in this series will look at the different types of scholarly blogs.

1 Comment

  1. Great post; many thanks for the thoughtful reflection on the issues.

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