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Academic Coaching & Writing

II. Academic Blogging: What Is An Academic Blog?

Sep 26, 2013 by Lee Skallerup Bessette

As pointed out by Ted Underwood in the comments of this post, “…blog is a baggy category. It implies ‘online,’ but doesn’t tell you much about content or even genre, which can range across a spectrum from ‘personal reflection’ to ‘journalistic intervention’ to ‘scholarly argument.’ ” In other words, a blog is something that is difficult to really define. A blog can be used to encompass any writing that takes place on the Internet, published in a chronological fashion. Blogs are a “baggy category” because they are large and loose, and academic blogs are no exception.

Blogs started in the mid-1990s. The word blog is short for “logging on the web” or a “web log.” The term itself was coined in 1999, the same year Blogger, the popular blogging platform was born. Academic blogging started in earnest in the early 2000s and grew throughout the decade (for example, media scholar Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s blog Planned Obsolescence just turned 11). Unsurprisingly, many of these early blogs were created by those interested in the intersections of technology with media (in a lot of ways the precursor to today’s Digital Humanities) or education (in other words, a lot of teaching and ed tech blogs). Today, even major professional organizations are embracing blogs. For instance, the Modern Languages Association is now hosting its own blogging and collaboration platform, MLA Commons.

An academic blog, broadly defined, is a blog written by one or more academics. The audience doesn’t have to be other academics; many science blogs are geared towards more general audiences, or K-12 science teachers, journalists, etc. Blog entries are shorter (750-1000 words is the a general rule, but far from a hard and fast rule) and less formal than “regular” academic writing or even conference presentations. And, unlike much traditional, published scholarship, they are available freely online. Of course, critics will cite the fact that blogs are not “peer-reviewed” like a journal article or a book, but they can still be valuable resources.

There are two types of academic blogs: Individual blogs or group blogs. Individual blogs are those that are started and maintained by one lone academic who writes most, if not all, of the posts. These are the most common kinds of academic blogs. There are certainly advantages to blogging solo: you have complete control over content, you are building your academic identity, and you answer only to yourself in terms of how often you blog. Blogs vary widely in content, form, and frequency. Two examples of individual blogs fall at opposite ends of the spectrum: On one side of the spectrum is Tressiemc, who blogs as herself and researches the for-profit sector of higher education. In her blog, she often deals with her own research and comments on major news in higher education. On the other side is Dr. Crazy, who blogs anonymously about her life as an academic. While she also discusses her research, she keeps it fairly vague to preserve her anonymity.

Group blogs are created and maintained by a collective; a group of academics who get together and all provide content for the blog. There are a number of advantages to these kinds of blogs: you share the responsibility of providing content and writing posts (as well as promotion); the blog can cover a variety of topics, depending on the expertise of the contributors; and you can build a community more quickly with and through the multiple contributors. Group blogs are typically organized around themes. Cliopatria (now defunct) was a group blog devoted to history. ProfHacker is dedicated to offering advice to help us do our jobs a little better, as is GradHacker, but with a specific focus on graduate students. Crooked Timber is a great example of a group blog that covers a variety of topics, as well as being one of the older and well-frequented academic blogs out there.

Increasingly, online publications are using bloggers to attract readers and academic bloggers are using these opportunities to increase their visibility and reach. Publications like The New Inquiry and Scientific American provide a larger platform for academics who blog. There have also been experiments with online publications that are kind of enhanced group blogs, such as Sounding Out or Hybrid Pedagogy. These are not quite blogs, but also not peer-reviewed journals. As you can see, like the Internet itself, there is a wide variety of types of and opportunities for academic blogs and blogging.

You can check out a compiled list of academic blogs and bloggers here and here. In the next post you will learn about types of academic blog posts.

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