Thursday, 17 September 2009

Should Academics Blog?

In the THES is an article titled I'm a celebrity academic ... in the blogosphere. Apparently it is much more common in the USA for academics to self-promote and use blogs to do so, whereas in the UK there is a lot of doubt about the value of doing so.

I think there are several factors that need to be considered: First, what is 'blogging'? Does it mean you have to churn out a post every day? Or every two days? Does it still count if you're posting at irregular intervals? I believe the latter is acceptable, otherwise there is too much pressure to write just for the sake of writing. As a comment on the THES site said, with RSS feeds it is quite easy to follow a blog without having to check every day for a new post.

Second, can we afford the time to blog? I think yes, as long as we are aware that a blog post is not a polished journal article, but something more 'raw'; however, the danger here is that you write something which you never can take back. Once it is out there, it always will be. But nobody should expect academics to be infallible, so there is nothing wrong with making mistakes. We're usually used to more scrutiny through peer review, and perhaps students who want to catch us out.

What then, is the point of blogging? For a start, you can disseminate knowledge. A lot of things I come across during my work are more bite-sized chunks of information/discoveries, too small to write up in an article. And if I wait and aggregate them, and do write an article, and get that reviewed and published, two years might have passed before other people can read it. A blog is much less formal, and is a much quicker route to the audience.

As for self-promotion, I think it becomes increasingly necessary to maintain a good on-line presence, and that not only applies to academics. And a blog is a good way to become more visible, raise awareness for the kinds of things you do, and perhaps even dispel some urban myths. As long as it does not interfere with your other tasks, I see no harm in academics blogging.

The next question, then, is the 'where'. Should universities provide blogging facilities? What if an academic moves to another university? What if the institution doesn't like what's written on the blog? Here we have the conflict between private views and those institutional ones. For the time being I guess it is safest to blog outside one's university, for reasons of freedom of expression and also the security of a fixed location.

If anybody reads those academic outpourings, however, is a completely different question!


  1. I favour blogging outside the university domain as well. But I do wonder whether universities will some day try to crack down on this: e.g. by restricting blogging activities during teaching hours.

    The point about self-promotion is important, I think. Self-advertisement goes against the grain for many of us, and there are of course the worries about privacy (do we want students reading our blogs? is it safe to divulge research findings on a blog?) that we've discussed before. But professional reputation does matter, in all sorts of ways, and maintaining a high-profile online presence (even typing the phrase makes me quail) is likely to become more and more important in making our research known to the wider world.

    On the positive side, an online presence is a more environmentally friendly strategy than either generating lots of paper or burning lots of airline fuel.

  2. I would think that with web indexing research findings should be safe, as you can show that you posted your results at a given date. It's certainly a faster way into the public domain than a journal paper or a monograph.

    And the universities should see academics as what they are: assets, rather than liabilities, esp when it comes to on-line presence. But it might be hard to convince the people at the centre of that... After all, we can't all be curing cancer or developing hydrogen cars.