In a few weeks, Mark Carrigan and I are going to convene an experiment in blogging as a live research method. We’re doing this lab work at the Undisciplining: Conversations from the Edges conference in Newcastle. (Registration closes on June 5thby the way – it’s not too late to decide to come. There’s films and walks and performances and interventions of all kinds, including ours. It’ll be fab. )
Mark and I, together with volunteer coo-researchers, will produce a collective exploration of the conference experience. As a blog. And because this is coming up pretty soon, I’ve been thinking about blogs, blogs as text, as a text form.
Now my most usual conference blog connection is when I talk with people about starting to blog. I discuss all the things you’d expect – why start, who is the blog for, who is the ’you’ that is writing, what do you have to say that isn’t already out there, is it better to blog with other people or go solo, would writing for magazine style blogs be better and so on. Very often we get into the tricky bits about blogging – time, trolling, privacy and plagiarism.
But this conference will be different. It’s wont be about any old blogging. So I’ve been thinking about how this blog will work. I’ve been pondering about the academic blog as a text. As a genre.
Academic blogs are not all the same. They differ in important ways. A few common types of academic blogs are those which:
- report research. These blogs might be from a particular research project, and attract readers who are interested in the topic. (See for instance one of my current research project blogs, researchtale) On the other hand, magazine style blogs report a range of research, and readers are often attracted by the variety from which they can pick and choose.
- report on the research process. These might be diary-like personal reflections, or a series of posts about research related reading and thinking, and/or commentary on related topical events.
- are pedagogical – like this one. The purpose of pedagogical blogs is to provide resources that are complementary to those provided in workshops perhaps in a home institution.
Then there’s live blogging – less common – where the intent is to use the immediacy of web publishing to allow people to follow a particular event as it happens. Afterwards, the site becomes a static archive (see for instance my recent live blog of a writing workshop). Live blogging allows multiple writers to participate, as will be the case with the live blog that Mark and I will set up. And what the balance will be of reporting research, personal reflection, pedagogical insights – we just don’t know.
But all academic blog types share some characteristics. And these will be important for the live blogging team.
Readers: Blogs have intended readers. This affects how they are written, as well as what they are about. In our case, we expect that people who are interested in social science, in blogs and in research methods might want to read our blogging conference experiment.
Length: Blog posts are usually on the shorter side – anything from 200 to 2000 words, but most are towards the mid point on this scale – so around 800-1000. In our case, we might expect people to write anything up to about 700 or so words at a time. But short and often might be the go.
Elements: Most blog posts include hyperlinks, and some have images, videos and audio content. Academic blogs tend to use hyperlinks – a lot – and images as illustration (like this post). Embedded video and audio are less common. But, given that our aim is to convey a conference experience, we might need to work a bit more on the multi-media side.
Rhetoric: All blogs make rhetorical appeals – and academic blogs are no exception. Most scholarly blogs work with logos (the exercise of reason) as you’d expect – but many also lean to pathos (they engage emotions) or aim to stimulate ethos (provoke ethical or moral responses). (Note to self: you’ve been meaning to write something about rhetoric and blogging for a long time, just get on with it. ) In a conference blog, we’d expect to see all three types of rhetorical appeals. A conference is never just about the intellect!
Structure: Blogs usually start off with a catchy heading, and then an introduction with a hook – an interest-provoking announcement about the topic and what’s to come. Then there’s some content which is broken up into readable chunks. A blog post often finishes with a call to action of some kind – a download, an invitation to comment, a plea to do something. However, I don’t think our conference blog will follow this format. As we intend to convey experience, our blog will be something else again – exactly what will have to evolve as we go along. So we will stray from the standard structure.
Syntax and style: Academic bloggers usually write shorter sentences and use more active voice than is usual in formal academic publications. They use less disciplinary specific terms ( I refuse to call this jargon) and explain them when they do. They may take a much more casual stance, using slang and the occasional bit of text speak. Metaphors and similes make the text more lively. (An aside: This is why a blog is often a good place to play with ‘voice’ and with writing in a more accessible form.)
While we hope everyone who live blogs at the conference will write ‘short and catchy’, we really don’t want a house style or a common voice. Quite the opposite. Difference is the point. Not a singular view. We hope for something – disciplinary word warning – polyphonic. You know, a blog with lots of voices. And perhaps even something that is – disciplinary word again – dialogic – a blog that is in conversation with itself and with anyone who cares to comment. And something that we hope will altogether have rich ethnographic quality – of that, more later.
So our conference live blogging will be like – and unlike- other academic blogs. I’m looking forward to finding out what will become. I hope you might be too.