should doctoral researchers blog?

I often get asked about the pros and cons of doctoral researchers blogging, and I know other colleagues do too. There isn’t a right or wrong answer to the question of course, it’s always an “It depends”. But here’s a few beginning thoughts.

For a start, whether to blog or not depends what you are hoping to achieve. Maybe you are thinking about an individual blog, something you create yourself on one of the standard platforms like blogger, wordpress or medium… and if you are, here’s some possible reasons and some things to consider….

(1) Your personal blog is a place to reflect and record what is happening in your research.
A blog can do this. It can be like a journal. You might blog about the things you are reading and thinking about. Formulating ideas into a thousand words or so and linking to relevant texts and other online resources can be helpful to your writing and thinking. It can be an archive and an aide-memoire (see Heather Davis post).

However, there are some potential pitfalls in using a blog as a journal. Take writing about field work for example – you do need to be careful about what you say… “I’ve just seen the most disgraceful behaviour imaginable… “ is not going to endear you to your research participants. You have to anticipate that they might go searching for you and what you do. And why are you journalling in public? What do you want everyone to know, and not know? How will you feel about your first doctoral year reflections some years later – will you want your early researcher self obliterated from public view?

But maybe there is another reason for blogging:

(2) Your personal blog is a way to develop your writing.
Blogging is a great way to develop academic writing. All of the writing advice out there, whether it’s for academic or creative writing, suggests that it’s good to develop a writing habit. Write regularly, everyday. It’s good if writing is as routine as cleaning your teeth. Blogging can be a useful part of a regular writing routine. As well, writing texts that are going to be public can help you develop a ‘voice’, help you to write with some authority, and allow you to practice writing in an accessible style. Writing in public and for a public is also, as Thesis Whisperer says, a key part of developing your academic identity.

But who are you writing for and why would/should they read what you’ve written? How will anyone know how to find what you’ve produced? Maybe you also need to consider:

(3) Your personal blog is a way to create a network.
Well no, it won’t do that. A blog doesn’t create a network, not by itself. Having a network means that you’ve found people who have the same interests as you. This is unlikely to happen just because you have created a blog. It’s not as simple as making a page, writing a few posts and hoping people will find it. Some might, but many more won’t. People have to know your blog exists. So you need to communicate it and yourself in some way – through face-to-face conversations, linked in, twitter, facebook … It’s the totality of your social media activity that creates the network, not just a blog (see Deborah Lupton’s research on this for example).

But as all the social media advice says, you need to do more than just promote your blog – you need to join in conversations. There’s nothing more tiresome that someone who only tweets about their latest blog post and never engages in any other way. You have to be a participant not just a marketer.

Maybe networking isn’t your prime purpose. Maybe you want to:

(4) Use your personal blog to communicate your research.
Communicating means that you have to find readers – see all of the above on networking. You need to get out there and join in conversations in order to get people to become interested in your work.

Many people suggest that the blog is a very helpful place to try out ideas that can be developed into full research publications later. You can use your blog to test run and experiment. You can build your agenda and your profile. But it’s the goal of communication where doctoral researchers have lots of worries. The two things I get asked most are:

Does a blog count as a publication? The answer is yes, it does. A blog is published – on the web – and it can be cited. And if you simply cut and paste your posts into your thesis or a paper then you are technically self-plagiarizing if you don’t note the original.

Now, because publications are high stakes in the academic game, you do need to consider what you need/want to do in relation to publishing. How does it connect to getting a job? Some people think that publishing your research on a blog is wasteful and the ‘good stuff’ should be saved for the publications that matter more – books and refereed journal articles. But it’s worth remembering that a blog post is generally short, it’s not the same as a journal article or a chapter, and you are likely to always do more in a paper or chapter than a post. And some people swear that their blogging was more than a bit useful in the process of getting a job, as it demonstrated to selection committees that they were keen, and able, to communicate with wider publics.

• Another common worry is that someone will steal your ideas. The truth is that this may happen, but it can happen anyway, not simply from blogging. Someone can be in your conference presentation, read an online conference paper, take away your slides handout, read your digital thesis – and they can just as easily plagiarise them too as a blog post. Plagiarism is a hazard of contemporary academic life and each one of us makes our own actuarial calculations about what is too risky.

But I’d also note that the reverse works too – blogging can be a hedge against accusations of plagiarism. I often use my blog to put down markers in the field – so if I’m thinking about something and I blog about it in a dated post, then I can demonstrate that I didn’t steal the idea from someone else who writes about it later!

And of course, stealing ideas is harder if your blog is not anonymous.

But is an individual blog what you want and/or need? The reality is that many doctoral researcher blogs do have quite limited readerships. Those that don’t, those that are well read and known, tend to have focused missions and a clear readership in mind. And even then, only some garner masses of readers. So, before you spend a few hours setting up your blog, it’d be good to spend time getting clear about exactly what you want to do, and why.

It’s worth considering options other than starting off your own individual blog and committing yourself to regular dollops of time writing posts. You could for example write guest posts for established blogs. You could suss out how to become a regular or semi-regular blogger for an online publication. You could form a collective with other doctoral researchers, or with others in your field, and start a newspaper-style blog. Write for Research has a helpful explanation of three different types of blogs. All or any of these blogging options could achieve what you want. It is really, really worth thinking about which type of blog suits you best.

A bit of a summary

So some key questions for aspiring doctoral bloggers are:

• Why blog? What do you hope your blog will do?
• Who is it for? What are they interested in? What else is out there and how is your blog different?
• How will you engage with your ideal readers?

The usual advice is, once you know the answer to these questions, you should try to write your blog’s mission statement and use it to generate the title, and the short description of the blog that appears on its front page. But don’t forget the other question:

• Should you start your own blog, blog with others or blog around?

About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
This entry was posted in academic blogging, doctoral research, networking, plagiarism, publications and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to should doctoral researchers blog?

  1. Pingback: The Value of Conferences & Blogs for Ph.D researchers | plasticdollheads

  2. Pingback: The perils of blogging | plasticdollheads

  3. Thank you – this is extremely timely and relevant.

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  6. Haitham Al-Sheeshany says:

    A great read indeed, thank you.
    I started blogging in 2005, I was in my 2nd & final year of the MBA programme (MBA was for 2 years, yes! :)). It was a combination of # 1 & 2, definitely no 3 or 4!

    At that time you were lucky if you had one or two readers/commentators / month! I had a very small number of people and mostly friends (& my mother too occasionally). I sometimes blogged about a certain incident in a course or about a professor’s witty comment regarding some case study or the like but never got any engagement on such topics. I realise, at least now, that I was writing for me, a journal to document my MBA life. But the blog was a mixture of everything actually.

    I am saying the above to point out that I agree with you 100% that one needs, as in any other endeavour, a sense of focus/direction about why and possibly how to (at least broadly) plan & commit to a (project), blogging being a v. good example for this end.

    Communicating one’s doctoral journey can be rewarding but you simply cannot portray everything. You need to have major classifications of what you intend to present and to whom. The reason for you conducting such writing experience in the form of a blog is equally important.

    I have not been away from the blogging scene since 2006, some years being very active (own personal blog, starting a new wordpress one, & guest posts as you pointed out) and some a bit on the slow side. I found out that keeping the blogging muscles going on helped me in 3 major ways: in sharpening my concentration about what I really enjoy in academic life, better presenting my ideas in writing (English is not my first language and a lot of my readers used to ask me to translate some posts which was helpful in many ways for me), and learning how to accept criticism as well as how to respond constructively to one (I had a lot share of this one for sure :D)

    * I am already starting to draft/scribble down some thoughts on my doctoral journey (I am in my 2nd year of the PhD rollercoaster now) I am not sure if I’ll publish before finishing -hopefully- or after but my gut tells me to wait and do it afterwards. I already have an idea or two for a blog title that resembles the major trend for a blog: “I found a wall to hang this, now what?!” or something along those lines 🙂

    Apologies for the lengthy comment but you surely struck a chord in me, blogging is dying as they say. We cannot offer to read more than a 140 characters for an item now! 😦

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  7. I started my blog before I began my PhD program. Now that I am in school, I blog about some things regarding research, but not a whole lot.

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  8. Thanks for this. I don’t yet use my blog for reflecting on my research but this makes me think I ought to. It would be great to connect. I’m in my final year (I hope!) of an EdD looking into senior teachers’ use of Twitter for CPD.

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  9. karicalle says:

    Thank you so much for posting this. I created my blog to document my doctoral school experience and also to share things I came across while doing research etc. Your post is so relevant and important. My blog is very new, but I am trying to connect with others in the blog-world.

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  10. DanielJAyres says:

    Reblogged this on Educational Gems and commented:
    A fabulous post exploring the pros and cons of blogging publicly. A must-read for anyone engaged in, or considering reflective writing, writing to learn, or publishing work…

    Like

  11. kr5686Kathy says:

    I started my PhD in 2009 and used a blog to keep notes about my reading. I am fairly mobile and at the outset it was my version of ‘the cloud’ – I could pick my notes up anywhere (it was 2009!). The tags I used have been enormously useful when it comes to finding notes on a particular topic so that I can remind myself of what I thought was useful/important etc at the time I made them. I used this repository a lot at the mid stage but much less now when I have better mastery of the literature – in fact yesterday was the first time I visited it in 2014.

    I have just checked the stats,
    113 entries
    6086 page views, 1 yesterday, 5 the day before
    North America, Canada, are big users. A lot of the entries are about distance learning so no surprises – but come on Australia you should be interested!

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  12. justblade says:

    I started a blog specifically for my PhD when I commenced in 2012. I have other blogs so the process was a bit familiar but I was keen to experiment with writing about the PhD. I was quite nervous about several of the things you identify, including ‘stealing ideas’ and confidentiality. I knew I was going to be doing a research project with children and so the confidentiality side loomed extra large in my mind. As I think most PhD researchers do, I have some worries about being gazumped (even though in my project there would be no way for someone else to have exactly the same data and analysis). So, even starting out I was quite choosy about what I was prepared or not prepared to blog.

    For my PhD blog I was inspired by Thesis Whisperer and then your blog to write more about writing, and so from the beginning I focused more on meta-thesis and reflections on process rather than the content of my work. I didn’t want to make it a personal confessional style blog, although some of what I write is obviously personal because I am the one doing the research. However, one of my personal rules is that it is not a whinge-fest. I have other personal forums for that! I am in the ‘good writing practice’ camp and I have a different imagined audience compared with the more formal writing I’ve been doing towards my thesis and papers for publication. I am definitely someone who thinks through writing, and I’ve found blogging on these things a useful parallel thread to the main work of my PhD.

    My blog posts have even inspired a friend who thought there’s no way she’d be able to do it to think more seriously about doing a PhD!

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  13. blognovice1 says:

    Reblogged this on blognovice1 and commented:
    This is one of the blogs I follow. I found the comments here quite thought provoking!

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  14. juliebounford says:

    Thank you. This resonates with a number of things I have been mulling over since starting my blog at the end of Jan 2014. I do write about the doctoral stuff but for me, the blog is about more than the research. It is about finding and developing my own written voice and identity. It is a great way of thinking out loud and exploring my responses to what others are saying. I feel compelled to write – the more I write, the more I have to say. I don’t altogether know who is listening, though I do get great feedback from associates, friends and family.
    http://jebounford.net

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  15. Thanks for this. A really useful post. And a great blog. This is the way it should be done.

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  16. Pingback: Why do I blog? | NeuroRach

  17. J. Cui says:

    Really nice post! I also find blogging is a good way to explore new ideas for future research. Thanks for your efforts doing this!

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  18. Pingback: Lessons from history: emergent academia (and public engagement) | Academic Emergence

  19. Lawrence Sacco says:

    Interesting. I thought of starting a blog as I’m starting a PhD. Do you think that a blog from a PhD researchet could include posts about research and also more personal opinion posts about other stuff, for example politics?

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  20. Rebecca says:

    In the first point you say “A blog can do this.” … my immediate thought when I read that was, no a blog doesn’t do that, the writer does that, the blog is just the medium that is used to do that. What I think is an important question is “do you need/want to think out loud?” – a blog is a way to think out loud. It is also a way to capture your ideas in a public place – it is self-publication.

    I also think your field you play a role in your decision as to whether or not to blog. As someone studying ed tech and social media, blogging makes sense. But it may not make sense in other fields.

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  21. pat thomson says:

    Blogs can do anything. Welcome to the posthuman turn. 🙂

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  22. Pingback: Write Here, Write Now | plasticdollheads

  23. laurammonk says:

    Thank you so much for this post. It has inspired me to start a blog about my doctoral research, which I have been wanting to do for some time. I am keeping it as a reference to manage my new status as a blogger. I always enjoy reading your blog posts that comes to me via email. I am pleased to be part of the blogging community myself now so that I can join in conversations too.

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  24. I just started my blog few month ago and it helps me get through my PhD. Research is hard and I use blog as something that gives me small satisfaction. I have some friends who follow me, and when I have a crap day in the lab at least I can publish a blogpost the day just feels better 🙂

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  25. Reblogged this on Erik the Linguist and commented:
    A researcher’s blog like mine can serve as a digital repository of overflowing thoughts, which I immediately forget even if I put them on paper. A blog post can be searched and retrieved, and the most important thing is blogs can interact. I’m ready to meet the people, talk with them about my ideas, and keep these ideas as my portfolio. It’s not necessary just to write about research in the researcher’s blog – it can record personal feelings and other topics that demonstrate what kind of person I am alongside my academic identity. Prof Thomson’s post is here timely to justify my “point of telling”.

    Worth a close read if you’re also interested in starting a blog to record your research life.

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  26. Pingback: On 7 years of Ecology Blogging – Ecology is not a dirty word

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