digital scholarship,  Weblogs

Blogging impacts on formal academic output

I exported my blog posts yesterday as a back up and thought I'd have a quick play around. I counted up the posts from 2006 when I started, 2007 and 2008. Then I wondered what my 'proper' academic output had been over this time, as I have the feeling it has fallen off somewhat. And yes, whereas I was averaging around 6 or 7 publications pre-blogging, since 2006 it has been about 3.

I think there are two main reasons for this:

1) The motivation to write papers has decreased – apart from getting an RAE ranking, the main reason to publish is to share ideas and fulfill a creative urge to write. Blogging meets these needs better than formal publications.

2) There is more than one way to network. I'm not a big fan of attending conferences (I've got enough bags, thanks), but I used to go to quite a few as this was the only way of getting to know those in your field. So, I used to write conference papers to achieve this aim. Now, I have a much wider and richer network through blogging and twitter, so that motivation is also reduced. I still think it's valid, and meeting people face to face adds to that network, but it doesn't have the monopoly it once did.

Here is a graph of my publishing versus blog activity (no. of blog posts is divided by 10).


Obviously this won't be the same for everyone, Grainne for instance still keeps up a formidable publication record despite taking up blogging. But I think we might see a similar pattern for many academics who get bitten by the blog bug. I think it's a good thing, but if I was an aspiring, newly qualified academic and formal publications were what counted, I guess I'd have to be wary of this effect.

Anyone else noticed a similar trend?


  • Andy Powell

    So… the implication is that the overall ‘impact’ of your writing is steady-state or increasing but that your easily measured formal ‘impact’ (in RAE terms) is lower. At what point does your boss step in and complain? Or are the proposed changes for the new RAE (whatever it’s called?) mean that this is becoming less of an issue?

  • Mike Caulfield

    I probably shouldn’t say this, since one of my main tasks is organizing conferences, but I’m really interested in the effect of blogging on conference attendance. There’s an awful lot of waste in a conference, between environmental (what’s the CO2 footprint of the average conference goer) to time (how many work days are lost, purely on travel, booking, filing reimbursements and the like), etc.
    Conferences used to be at least partially about showing work not quite ready for publication and getting feedback on it, as well as getting it out into the community faster. That piece seems to be antiquated.
    I still feel the social networking is worthwhile, and would not advise people to drop all conferences form their schedule, but I wonder if *part* of the answer to that age-old question “Where do you get time to blog?” might be “from not going to conferences”.
    And on the environmental front, I do wonder what the footprint of a conference is…

  • Martin Weller

    @Andy – I’d say overall impact definitely increasing. I mean who actually _reads_ journal articles, whereas I have around 1000 subscribers to my blog (ok, not all of them read every post). But at the moment, yes my formal recognition has probably diminished. I probably don’t have to worry too much about my boss stepping in, I’m a Prof so not on short term contract, and part of my remit is to explore this stuff.
    @Mike – that’s a very good point about using conferences to test out ideas and blogs now fulfilling that role. In some ways blogging adds to conferences – I want to go to Alt-C this year to meet a lot of my blog/twitter chums. But some of the academic function has diminished, so I think conferences need to recognise and embrace this change in role. As for environmental impact I think blogging/networking means we can choose our conferences more carefully.

  • M-H

    Great post, and interesting comments too. I have often heard the argument that I shouldn’t blog because I am doing a PhD and therefore every moment of my time is precious (like that sperm in Month Python, perhaps!). I have even heard other PhD students say that their supervisor has told them that they mustn’t blog as it will waste writing time. (And yet, and yet… how many times are students told to write regularly, to keep journals?) But in fact blogging helps me remember stuff because I note it down as I think of it – sometimes in my private backblog, sometimes on my public blog. It also sometimes helps me work through ideas by a ‘writing to think’ process.

  • Martin Weller

    @M-H – not blogging while during a PhD is faintly ridiculous, I think it’s an excellent time to do it. It is probably the one time in your life when your head is just full to bursting on one subject. A blog is a really good way of thinking this stuff through. Sure, if you’re doing a PhD in organic chemistry and spend 12 hours a day running a blog on Korean cinema, then it’s a distraction, but assuming it is actually related to your research I would always encourage my students to blog.

  • Steven Warburton

    @Martin – thought provoking post. But do you have a comment about rigour? Not all writing is equal and formal publications are evaluated in a different way by their audience, compared to the more informal blogging community, which can often be uncritical and amplify ill-sourced and ill-thought through ‘messages’. Your post does make me wonder where we expect to see impact from these efforts. Blogging is more direct at the sharp-end and academic work so often lacks the vitality to be translated into meaningful practice.
    @MC – I detect a big increase in the use of sysnchronous online conferencing technologies but I do wonder if this has actually had any impact on the number of face-2-face events that now clog the edtech calendar.

  • idle hands

    A blog is a really good way of thinking this stuff through. Sure, if you’re doing a PhD in organic chemistry and spend 12 hours a day running a blog on Korean cinema, then it’s a distraction, but assuming it is actually related to your research I would always encourage my students to blog.

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