Why write an academic blog?

I started blogging in 2009, having graduated with a craft design degree and having no idea what to do with it. I knew I liked design, I knew I liked talking and writing about it and I knew I now had some time on my hands, so I started writing I Like Local.

Aideen McCole, Web and Social Media Officer

It became my way of exploring the design and architecture I was surrounded by (rather than the stuff from far away that I’d filled my notebooks and essays with in art school), a way to showcase the work, exhibitions and events out there that deserve to have a light shone on them, and an encouragement to form – and then share – opinions on the spaces, places and objects I’m in contact with. Mine is a personal blog about encounters with design and architecture, and comes very much from my own interests and viewpoint.

Not all blogs out there are like this. In the area of design and architecture blogging alone, there’s a vast array of blog types to read. Some are highly discursive from the off and encourage readers to join in in the discussion, while others shy away from sharing opinions and simply present contemporary work: one such leader in this area, London-based design blog Dezeen, published for 6 years without sharing any opinions (but now they finally have some). The world of blogging is not a rigid, formulated or formalised one: rather, it morphs and adapts as our interests and needs change, and is completely user-driven in its nature. A blog can be almost anything you want it to be.

Why graphic_IHURERPerhaps this is why the relationship between blogging and academia is an uncertain one: blogging lacks the structure associated with more traditional academic publishing: a blog is not a peer-reviewed journal, there may not be the same degree of editing between writing and publication, in fact there may not be an editor involved at all. Blogging can be immediate and reactionary, and can be a way to disseminate ideas which are still in development. Blogging is open to everyone: those with clear and valuable arguments to put forward and those without. Understandably, these characteristics can set off alarm bells: how do I know what I’m reading on a blog is of merit? And amid search engines clogged with this stuff, how will anyone looking for a well-thought-out piece of writing find mine?! But what can at first appear to be blogging’s downsides I believe to really be its benefits: blogging’s openness and immediacy are exactly what make it worthwhile, for academic researchers along with everyone else.

A blog is available not just for anyone to write, but for anyone to read. Unlike traditional academic publishing with its often limited audience, a blog can reach a much wider set of readers, potentially exposing many readers with different interests and viewpoints to your ideas, and perhaps crucially: exposing your ideas to them. By publishing in this fully open and accessible way your ideas can become subject to a much wider analysis and discussion than through other channels. As Jenny Davis of Texas A&M University writes on the LSE Impact blog (originally published on Cyborgology):

“…blogs can be written by anyone. Peer-reviewed journal articles and books are almost always authored by academics. This academic bias, like pay-walls and jargon, limits discursive participants, whereas blogs can potentially open discursive boundaries.”

The quickfire nature of blogging allows academics to respond or react to topical events, and feed into current discussions. Here on the IHURER blog we’ve seen timely analyses of the Land and Building Transaction Tax (LBTT) recently passed by Scottish Parliament, the beginnings of the return of optimism to the Greek real estate market and media reporting on poverty in Scotland. Traditional academic publishing can lead to a timelag – with some channels experiencing a more significant one than others – but blogging can facilitate quick and timely responses to current issues.

Academic blogging is probably best used as a complementary form of publishing rather than a replacement of traditional forms, not only because traditional forms still carry a lot of weight and respect, but because one can feed off another. A blog can act as a testbed for ideas that may later be developed for other publications; it can also be a great way to further promote those publications to ensure they get the readership they deserve. Though written a while back, Eric Rauchway’s thoughts on blogging, shared on The Chronicle of Higher Education, still ring true:

“You got a book to sell? Your blogging helps sell it. Or your product may just be you, in which case [you can blog] to increase your influence, or mind-share. You want people to know who you are? You blog; you get out there and you engage other bloggers in discussion, you link to them, and you get more people talking about what you think and what you say.”

But more importantly than any self-promotion or networking, blogging gives you a quick, easy and open way to read, develop and share ideas. Who knows who those ideas might reach, or what sharing them might lead to? If you’re someone who likes to think, talk, argue and write (and if you’re an academic researcher, something tells me you are), take the opportunity blogging gives you to spread the word about the research you think matters. The research that goes on in IHURER, and in Heriot-Watt’s School of the Built Environment as a whole, impacts broad sections of society here in the UK and around the world and deserves to be shared with the broad audience a blog can offer. People out there are reading, so why not tell them something?!

Aideen McCole is the Web and Social Media Officer at Heriot-Watt’s School of the Built Environment. She blogs about design and architecture at ilikelocal.blogspot.com and you’ll find her on Twitter:

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