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From group blogs to open lab notebooks: Types of scholarly blogs

This is the third post in a series about scholarly blogging. The first post looked at the reasons scholars choose to blog, and the second examined some arguments against it. This one delves a little deeper into the subject by looking at some of the different types of scholarly blogs out there. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and the categories I point out here are not mutually exclusive – for example, it’s possible to have a group blog that serves as an open lab notebook. However, it should give a flavor of the huge variety in scholarly blogs.

In a sense, there are as many types of scholarly blogs as there are reasons for blogging. To make it a little more accessible, I have decided to divide them by number of contributors and raw materials vs. polished thoughts. To wind up, I’ll throw in some thoughts on microblogging.

Number of contributors

Most people still think of blogging as a solo activity. There are certainly lots of blogs written by individual scholarsKris Shaffer’s is a nice example. Dr. Shaffer is a music professor (currently transitioning from Charleston Southern University to UC Boulder), and he blogs about music pedagogy and the ways that digital technology is changing teaching and publishing. He publishes two or three posts a month, and they range from brief notes to much more in-depth explorations of topics.

juntoBlogThe individual blog is great if you can pull it off, but the thought of having to write that much – or have a stagnant blog when you don’t – is daunting to many scholars. Fortunately, group blogs are becoming more and more common. A group blog might not create the same kind of name recognition as a solo one, but the trade-off is less pressure to constantly post. Group blogs can also allow for interesting interactions between authors and a greater variety of topics. Take note, though, if you are thinking about starting a group blog – it helps to have an editor. The editor can solicit posts and contributors and make sure the content follows the site’s rules for formatting, length, etc.

Raw materials vs. polished thoughts

Another way in which scholarly blogs can vary is by the type of content they publish. Again, content varies widely from site to site – that’s kind of the point. It’s possible to categorize many blogs, though, in terms of whether they publish the raw materials of scholarship or its more polished outputs.

One type of blog that publishes raw materials is the open lab notebook. One example is Carl Boettiger‘s. Dr. Boettiger is a post-doc at U.C. Santa Cruz who works in ecology and evolution.

On the other end of the spectrum are blogs like William Kerrigan’s American Orchard. Dr. Kerrigan is a professor of history at Muskingum University in Ohio, and he researches Johnny Appleseed and the history of apple cultivation in North America. The content on American Orchard is basically a series of mini-essays on the topic, and on the ‘polished’ spectrum, falls somewhere between the open lab notebook and the journal article.



I want to call attention to one other type of scholarly blog, mostly because it’s not always recognized as such – the microblog. Microblogging is just what it sounds like: very short blog posts. The most commonly-used microblogging platforms are Twitter and Tumblr.

Twitter use varies wildly between disciplines. In some fields, telling people you use Twitter is like admitting to a penchant for reality TV: slightly embarrassing, and not likely to engender respect. In others – digital humanities, for one – Twitter is a vital part of the conversation. “That’s great,” you may say, “but how much information can you really fit into 140 characters?” More than you’d think, actually, if you make use of character-saving conventions. More to the point, each Tweet is part of an individual’s stream, and can be aggregated in interesting ways.

Tumblr is only marginally less embarrassing than Twitter, given the predominance of academic humor and  pictures of Ryan Gosling. It can be a powerful tool, however, as Anastasia Salter pointed out recently in the Chronicle:

aliceInDataland_Tumblr“Recently I’ve been working on a project that requires thinking about more texts than I usually try to immerse myself in at any given time. I’ve started using Tumblr to keep track of some of the images and notes for the project and to get ideas from other fans and scholars examining the many versions of Alice in Wonderland.”

Next time…

The next post in this series will look at scholarly blogging at OSU. If you are an OSU faculty, student, or staff member involved in scholarly blogging, I’d love to hear from you.

1 Comment

  1. There are mixed feelings about the need for identifying blogs, by assigning an ISSN for example or some other kind of more relevant -identifiers (if any).
    Since not all scholarly blogs could be identified, what would the criteria be apart from “this is a microblog”, “no polished thoughts” or “just one contributor”?

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