I wrote this post for the terrific e-zine Discover Society, before the revelations about Facebook and Twitter complicity with the Russian election hacks. I ask the question: are there other ways we can build networks and community, a social web? Your thoughts?
“Blogging is quite simply, one of the most important things that an academic should be doing right now” (Dunleavy, 2014).
How can researchers provide information about their studies in ways that would be useful and interesting to prospective and current participants? With that question in my mind, I began to explore the potential for blogs as a bridge between researchers and participants. As with almost any online exploration, I discovered a much broader potential for blogs in the academic world.
Today’s researchers, scholars, and instructors are finding
many valuable ways to use blogs. I’ve come to realize that blogs play an important part in the publishing cycle and online ecosystem. It is not a matter of either/or: we need to find ways these different communication options fit with our career and research goals.
Blogs and Social Media
Before going any further with this discussion, it’s important to define blogs and to distinguish between blogs and social media.
Blogs, short for weblogs are personal online journals where entries are posted chronologically. Microblogs use the same principle but allow for very short entries. Blogs can be text only or embed or link to images or media. Some are public and others are only seen by subscribers or friend lists. (Salmons, 2016)
Bloggers can choose from a number of free or paid platforms where they can devise their own templates, adapt or use available templates. Popular platforms include WordPress, Blogger and Squarespace. Blogs are very flexible and users can create a wide variety of formats and styles of presentation. Some are very basic with simple narrative posts and others are complex with design features that include both static pages and time-sensitive posts. Bloggers use comment features to invite feedback or to interact with readers. Bloggers may choose to generate revenue with advertising and other promotions.
Bloggers are not limited by proscribed lengths, styles, features or page designs. This flexibility stands in contrast to posts made to social networking sites. Social networking sites are typically run as commercial platforms by large companies. These companies have determined ways to make a profit from user-generated material and are thus invested in allowing certain kinds of posts. Brands are built on the sites’ graphic design and features. Users of sites like Facebook can be surprised to login and find that their pages’ format has changed. They have become accustomed to seeing advertising on their walls, as well as links to other content the company has decided is of interest to users who fit a certain profile. Users of the microblog tool Twitter have become accustomed to the 140 character limitation.
Social networking sites and blogs are typically interconnected. Bloggers use social media in order to build an audience. They create posts that fit within the constraints of the social networking sites, but link back to the blog where they have the freedom to present information in the way they prefer. Bloggers can use social networking to interact with others and use their blogs to present more substantial writings and other expressions. The important point here is that by knowing the strengths and weaknesses of each type of site, we can make better choices about which best meets specific academic purposes.
Social Networking Sites
|Flexible formats and options for presenting narrative material of any length, attachments for download, graphics, photographs and/or media.||Format options determined by commercial owner of site.|
|Communication features determined by blogger, using free, open access plug-ins and software or professionally designed templates.||Features and design options determined by commercial owner of site.|
|Advertising determined by the blogger, who collects the revenue.||Advertising determined by the commercial site, and the site collects the revenue.|
|The blogger chooses what content to promote and what links to share.||Commercial owner of site uses data analytics to select content and links aligned with visitors’ interests.|
Table 1: Blogs and social networking sites
Academics and Blogs
I suggest that academics can use blogs in three main ways:
- Researcher-to-Researcher: Sharing and exchange.
- Researcher-to-Participants: Building credibility and “informing” participants
- Researcher-to-Public: Sharing findings, results and practical resources.
Researcher-to-Researcher: Academic bloggers communicate with each other for exchange and networking within or across disciplines. They present information in ways that build upon a shared foundation in the topics under discussion, and a shared understanding of the protocols and expectations for activities such as conducting research or teaching at the college level. They share resources, links to recent publications, calls for papers, or notices about upcoming conferences, or other opportunities of interest to other academics.
Researcher-to-Participants: Academic bloggers communicate with prospective or current participants. They present information in ways the study population will understand. Blogs intended for this purpose can introduce the study, develop the credibility of the researcher, be used to support recruitment efforts, and help to inform participants before and during the study.
Researcher-to-Public: Academic bloggers also communicate with the general public. They present information in ways that anyone would understand and find of interest. The researcher may translate academese or disciplinary jargon into more familiar terms. The researcher may offer recommendations for applying findings in practical ways. This type of blog is designed to share findings and/or to build awareness about the issues and problems under investigation.
Patrick Dunleavy introduced another way to categorize academic blogs, and I think his approach meshes well with mine. He distinguishes between them according to the number and type of all author: solo, collaborative, or multi-author (Dunleavy, 2014). Table 2 is adapted from his model. As an academic with an interest in blogging, you have the choice of either designing and launching your own solo blog, finding a group of like-minded writers who want to begin a collaborative blog, or looking for opportunities to contribute to a multi-author blog in your field. Alternatively, you can look for opportunities to contribute as a guest writer for blogs that focus on your area of interest.
|Type of blog and authorship||The blog owner is responsible for direction of the content and writes the posts. Occasionally guests contribute. The blog or another serves as the editor, giving the site in personal style.||Usually 2 to 10 authors generate and edit the blog’s content. Guest blogs or columns are written by regular contributors. Editorial roles may be rotated or shared.||An editorial team commissions or collates contributions from many authors. Posts are professional edited and the site has strong production values and design. The blog may have a formal tie-in to a scholarly journal or trade publication.
|How do readers find the blog?||Individual authors’ identities are key to the brand.||Topic or disciplinary identities help to develop a brand.||Strong branding, linked to university, media outlet or professional/scientific bodies or journals.|
Table 2: Types of blogs identified by Patrick Dunleavy (2014). See the article for additional categories and the full table.
How might these categories inter-relate? A juxtaposition of Dunleavy’s and my categories for academic blogs is illustrated in Table 3. The columns are intended here not as a fixed set of boundaries but more as a continuum between on one end, the individual DIY blogger who is responsible for everything from choosing the domain name, platform, hosting service, and figuring out how to make it all work to a professional operation more comparable to a journal or magazine production.
|Researcher-to-Researcher||The researcher creates a blog where he or she posts information about research interests, projects, conference presentations and publications.||Researchers with a shared interest, area of inquiry, methodology or discipline work together to create a blog about their individual or team research projects and related events and resources. The blog may serve as a channel for connecting with new research partners, conferences or funding opportunities.
|Professional society, association, or university group sponsors a blog for researchers working in a specific area of inquiry or discipline. Writing in the blog and any related publications is aimed at other scholars and academics in the field.|
|Researcher-to-Participants||Individual researchers or research teams use a blog to explain the purpose of the study and expectations, benefits and/or risks for participants. As appropriate, findings are shared with the participants. Links are shared on social networking sites.||Announcements for opportunities to participate in studies are posted on the blog. Links are shared on social networking sites.|
|Researcher-to-Public||The researcher creates a blog where he or she posts information about research findings and their application. The researcher may use the blog to promote his or her workshops or consultations about how to apply research findings. Links are shared on social networking sites.||The group of collaborative researchers and writers creates a blog with the intention of disseminating research findings to those who can use them. The researchers may use the blog to promote workshops or consultations about how to apply research findings. Links are shared on social networking sites.||Articles about application and practical use of research findings are featured on the organization’s blog. A blog may be one of many channels for reaching the public. Articles may be associated with products and services available for sale such as handbooks, workshops or training. Links are shared on social networking sites.
In another post, I shared a recorded presentation with specific examples (with links) for each of these types. Please share your favorite academic blogs and let me know how you think they would fit into these categories. Do you think the blogger or bloggers achieve their purpose? Why or why not?
#AcWriMo is coming up– let’s blog about academic blogging! Share your examples and follow me on @einterview to join the conversation.
Dunleavy, P. (2014). Shorter, better, faster, free: Blogging changes the nature of academic research, not just how it is communicated.
Salmons, J. (2016). Doing qualitative research online. London: SAGE Publications.
Looking for examples? Here are a few to get you started.
- ACRLog is a blog for academic and research librarians. http://acrlog.org
- Discover Society is a blog about social issues and social policy. https://discoversociety.org
- Explorations of Style is a blog about academic writing. https://explorationsofstyle.com
- London School of Economics Impact is a blog about uses of research. http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences
- SAGE Methodspace is a blog for the research community. https://www.methodspace.com
- Textbook and Academic Authors Association blog is about writing and publishing. http://blog.taaonline.net
We now have many options for publishing our work, from blogs to peer-reviewed articles, books with a publisher to self-published e-books, as well as case studies, manuals, or book chapters. Which mix of options aligns with your career goals?
Mark your calendar- and post questions- for a #PubPlan tweetchat w/ @DrHelenKara & me. No registration needed, just log into Twitter and look for #PubPlan. To participate, just add the hashtag to each comment or response, so others in the thread see your posts. You can start now: suggest questions or topics you’d like us to cover!
If you want to focus on your own strategy with a small group of writers, Dr. Kara and myself, consider taking our course! The next session of Create Your Publication Strategy starts February 13. See: www.path2publishing.com to register.
See a related article on SAGE Publications Methodspace http://www.methodspace.com/research-publication-impact-might-need-strategy/
#PubPlan is hashtag! Post your questions now, and join the conversation January 17.
The Doing Qualitative Research Online Virtual Book Tour includes stops across the globe.
Maynooth University in County Kildare, Ireland!
The first stop on the Doing Qualitative Research Online Virtual Book Tour was the Advanced Digital Research Methods class lead by Aphra Kerr of the Sociology Department in Maynooth University, Ireland. We discussed “Eliciting Data with Online Interviews or Focus Groups.” This class is part of their MA in Sociology (Internet and Society) course.Further information on the course can be found here and you can visit Aphra’s webpage. She is on Twitter at @aphrak and the Department is @MU_Sociology.
University of Stirling in Glasgow, Scotland.
I visited the Theory and Methods of Digital Social Research class at the University of Stirling, in Glasgow,Scotland. It is great to exchange ideas with bright and curious students who are looking at the possibilities for using digital methods in social research.
University of South Africa at Cape Town Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching: e/merge Africa
A week-long series of events for educators and students across Africa, through e/merge Africa! Log in to E/merge Africa and access archived materials and recordings. I presented one webinar for faculty who teach research methods or use research activities in their courses: “Getting Started: Teaching Online Research Design Basics.” I presented a second webinar for researchers, “Enacted Approaches for Generating Data with Arts-Based & Participatory Methods.” This webinar focused on the use of creative, interactive online methods.
Social Research Association, based in London.
We discussed creative and arts-based methods. I created a short exercise guide for visual techniques you can use with your group or class.
This session included both an overview of online methods and a focus on eliciting data with interviews.
SAGE Publications MethodSpace
“Online Research: Holistic Thinking and Qualitative Design” Learn how technology can influence all aspects of the design, whether you collect extant data, elicit responses from participants in online interviews, or generate data with arts-based methods.
Free webinar Wednesday, June 15 at 9 a.m. EST/4 p.m. GMT
Contact me to be a part of the tour! I can visit your group of researchers, research faculty or consultants, and/or students.
Doing Qualitative Research Online suggests a new way to think about qualitative research design in the digital world.
I am booking stops on a virtual book tour to introduce Doing Qualitative Research Online. We will explore and discuss practical strategies for teaching a course or workshop with the book, or designing research using the approaches described in the book. At each stop on the tour I will offer a free one-hour webinar, and during the subsequent week I will share resources and answer questions in an asynchronous discussion. Follow the tour here– I’ll post descriptions of each new site and add locations to the map!
As host you are responsible for:
- Selecting the webinar topic from three available options:
- Getting Started: Online Design Basics,
- Eliciting Data with Online Interviews or Focus Groups, or
- Enacted Approaches for Generating Data with Arts-Based & Participatory Methods.
Find more detailed descriptions of webinar and discussion options here.
- Coordinating and scheduling the event with me,
- Confirming attendance of at least 10 researchers, research faculty, and/or students,
- Sharing suggested resources and readings with attendees,
- Attending the webinar and participating in the discussion.