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Blog posts vs journal articles

As an academic who is focussed on having an impact on education policy and practice I struggle with whether to concentrate on publishing in journal articles or blog posts. Do both I hear you say, but that is also problematic. Here are the issues:

As an academic I am expected - even required - to publish a certain number of articles in (high ranking) journals each year. However, my main concern is on actually having an impact on policy and practice and I'm not convinced that journal articles help me do that.

Getting a journal article published is a slow process - it can take years from when you first draft the article to when it gets published. That means that much of what is written in journal articles is dated. In addition most of the people who control policy and practice do not appear to read journal articles. So any impact is likely to be indirect (at best) - you develop a good academic reputation which means that people listen to what you have to say (but not necessarily what you have written in a journal article).

Blog posts on the other hand are quicker to produce and publish (days rather than years) and more accessible to people who can influence policy and practice. However, they are not seen as being of academic value. This is largely because they are not subject to peer review and are therefore assumed to be of lower quality than journal articles - and it is true that feedback from good reviewers does improve the quality of your work. Blog posts also tend to be shorter and written in a more accessible way than journal articles, which is, perhaps mistakenly, also taken to be an indication of lack of academic quality.

The obvious solution would be to do both journal articles and blog posts. There are a number of tensions here. Firstly, journals do not allow you to include material that has already been published elsewhere in your submissions to them. This means that if you have written a blog post on a topic you would then need to totally rework it before including that content in a journal article. Of course there is nothing to stop you from writing a journal article first, and then producing one or more blog posts based upon it - but then your blog posts would be years out of date, which undermines one of the useful elements of them.

There is also an issue of time - to develop a viable blog one needs to publish regular posts. Writing high quality blog posts takes time - whilst I can knock off a post such as this one in a couple of hours, writing an academically rigorous and well supported blog post takes much longer. That is time I am not spending writing journal articles.

There is also a tension around what quality looks like for different stakeholders. Even if we ignore the external metrics imposed by research assessment exercises (such as the REF in England) it is the case that academic audiences like theory and carefully balanced, evidence informed discussion, which may not culminate in unambiguous or actionable conclusions. Policy makers and practitioners on the other hand want clarity - they want less nuanced and more clearly actionable evidence about how to enhance education. In both cases it is important that the conclusions are based on robust and rigorously interrogated evidence, but in one case demonstrating that this is the case is the priority whilst in the other the clarity of outcomes is much more important. Journal articles lend themselves to demonstrating the academic credibility of the evidence better than blog posts (in part because of their length), whilst blog posts may be a better vehicle for conveying actionable conclusions (without presenting all of the underpinning academic methodology and analysis).

So what should I do?

I'd be interested to hear your views on this topic.

  • Are my assumptions about the pros and cons of journal articles and blog posts reasonable? (How important are journal articles to policy makers?)
  • If you face similar tensions how do you resolve them?

 

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4 thoughts on “Blog posts vs journal articles

  1. David Longman

    First an obvious point: the basis of academic esteem needs to change from within the HE system so that recognition is given to output that is not in the standard form of published research reports or research articles. Part of this must be to change the 'metric' for recognising the standing of 'informal' published writing versus research journals (and there are so many of these nowadays! Are they all equivalent? And what to do about publishing monopolies like Elsevier?). In short, the entire system of academic publishing as a 'metric' is in serious need of reform (and please let's not use red, amber.green or gold.silver.bronze style systems!)

    My Big Idea: Perhaps a useful way to get value and esteem from the kind of writing that you and many others do in their blogs - writing which is often more informative and, as you say, more current and more accessible - is to come up with something like a 'blog club' or 'blog circle'. A group of bloggers 'sign up' to a 'peer review circle' in which they agree to certain practices such as reading a selected number of posts and providing critical comment, and the blog writer can provide some sort of evidence that comments have been taken account of (e.g. perhaps some method of versioning so that the pre-comments version is available if reader want to see it and/or later amendments are created).

    Such a 'blog circle' would need to avoid potential accusations of 'back scratching' but then let's not forget that the whole peer review process in journal publishing has already been criticised for its imperfections - peer review in journals is already back scratching!

    A 'blog circle' would be semi-closed (or semi-open if you like) and could group itself under a high level banner (a 'brand'? -ugh!)of some sort so a blog circle is seen to comprise several individual blogs rather than being a single entity. New members can be brought in and members can leave (such details as membership procedures can be worked out).

    Of course, there is some extra work in the blog circle idea (member need to agree to read and comment - perhaps on some sort of quota basis) but then many academics do that anyway (i.e. in peer review work). A big gain here might be transparency, as well as currency, because reviewer comments could be/would be available alongside (in some way) the posts themselves and versioning would allow scrutiny of how writers have taken account of feedback.

    (In my own experience as a reviewer I have found this aspect of the review process to be a black hole - I don't think I have *ever* been asked to review/check/confirm a final just-about-to-print version of a journal article; and as you say because timelines are so long who can remember if they even reviewed an article two/three years later?)

    This idea could be supported easily with available infrastructure.

    A particular example that might suit the job very well is the CommentPress plugin and theme which was designed for this very job - and is still maintained. E.g. it affords public display of comments on a text, paragraph by paragraph. Every blogger in a circle might have to use the same theme but that might be a small price to pay for placing blog writing on a foundation of credibility ...

    However, it's a WordPress theme only, free to install on self-hosted sites but on WordPress.com it can only be installed on expensive premium contracts. I would guess this might be surmountable with JISC funding, or similar, and negotiation with WordPress?

    As it happens I experimented with this theme some time ago: You can see it here: [http://davidlongman.net/blog/](http://davidlongman.net/blog/)

    The blog front page has details about the source and origin of the theme. The link on the front page also gores to an example of the theme in use: [http://www.futureofthebook.org/commentpress/](http://www.futureofthebook.org/commentpress/).

    I tried to raise interest in it at work back on 2011-2012 for similar reasons as you now describe and when I was part of the Learning & Teaching group (remember those!) but no-one ever looked at it, let alone commented or even took the idea seriously!

    I still think it is a potentially useful tool and perhaps made for the job you are discussing.

    ... Incidentally, the writing in my sample blog is just rough drafting so please be gentle if you do comment ! 😉 ...

    (Note: Kathleen Fitzpatrick's blog is worth following too and the link to her book Planned Obsolescence which is about this very issue of academic publishing and well worth looking at.

    And now that I have written this long comment I will dig out her book and have another look at it!

    Reply
    1. PeterT

      Thank you for this really interesting response to my request for input David.

      When I set up halfbaked.education my intention was that posts would be revised and new versions shared (hence tags of 1st draft, 2nd draft). I also hoped to encourage other folk to become halfbaked.education bloggers. In practice I haven't used these tags much and have had limited success getting others to contribute. Your suggestions are really interesting.

      I'm going to post another blog exploring interest in the idea and how it might work.

      I'm also going to explore the plug in that you refer to (and have added a comment to your blog about abundance (specifically re your definition of OERs).

      Given that I arrived in Australia yesterday and need to sort out accommodation, medicare, finances, residency, etc. before starting my new job (Prof of Education (Innovation in schooling and educational technology)) at the University of Newcastle (NSW) this probably won't happen for a month or so.

      Immediate thought is about how this storey of approach might be built into my teaching (involving students in blogging and peer review).

      Watch this space - and let's extend the discussion...

      Reply
      1. David Longman

        Thanks Peter - nice response. I knew you were off to Oz but hadn't realised you are now 'down' there.

        Where are you based? Presumably you are now a double-professor of some sort! 🙂

        Perhaps the CommentPress 'blog circle' model might work for student assignments or some types of coursework?

        I have tried in the past to encourage students to critique each others work (haven't we all?) but this is
        learned thing - it doesn't just happen - and it also involves a shift in the received culture of written work, a culture of this is mine and it is private .

        So a structured environment where mutual critique is easily afforded might help?

        In teacher training (where most of my work was based) students didn't have a lot of time for writing and less for reading and critiquing. At MA level the received culture of privacy and possessiveness was more pronounced with respect to the writing they were required to do (presumably because the work has become more personal). Students are obliged to share with their tutor of course but that is often not a comfortable experience and they aren't always good at either reading feedback or adapting their work to take account of it (that's a learned thing too). More, generally they/we hate letting other students have a go at critiquing what we have spent hours drafting.

        It's better at PhD level where it's encouraged much more but it's still not an intrinsic approach; it has to be encouraged and many/most have to learn to do it and, equally, overcome a lot of anxiety about it.

        It might be different in more media oriented courses where an audience oriented 'product' is the outcome. However, although I have only a little experience of that type of work, what I have seen of computer game design course products does make me wonder if there is sufficient mutual critique going on.

        So the project here would be about setting up a structured environment for shared reviewing rather than shared writing. CommentPress is the best I have seen that might enable this, though it would require everyone to use the same basic theme, (which on the face of it contradicts one of the elements of blogging, namely that the presentation style of the blog is part of the writer's identity).

        Still everyone can have their own blog name and maintain their own blog etc. There just has to be some permission control to restrict who has comment rights etc. There's all sorts of ways of organising this but this is not the space to go on about it!

        Broadly too, one might expect that developing a structured approach for shared reviewing/feedback could offset some of the weaknesses common in student writing at HE. After all, as has been said many times, so-called 'academic writing' is a style all its own and while easily derided as unusual, abnormal or odd, some parts of that style are essential to knowledge-building game (e.g. citing sources and summarising/critiquing them).

        Because the academic style is unfamiliar there can be, typically, a 'natural' tendency on the part of new writers to plagiarise (I mean that kindly, it is hard to avoid when you start out), a natural tendency to 'over-write' (i.e. prose that is just complex, obscure, ungrammatical, streamed etc.), and a woeful but natural tendency to *never* re-read what one has just written. this aspect was one of my more frequent 'run-ins' about student writing but it goes to he heart of a purpose of academic writing which is to communicate; on the whole I found that people generally don't seem to like to re-read what they have just written - again this is a learned thing

        Note: this may differ from creative writing which might be more about forms of self-expression. I have had some slight experience of 'marking' creative writing assignments and found that 'expression' can only take decent writing so far before the poor reader needs help! (And of course, feedback on creative writing can really make nascent writers touchy!)

        Quality control statement: This comment has been re-read and corrected before posting ... hopefully it is not too incomprehensible!

        Reply
        1. PeterT

          I could do with having a double David - but am just an ordinary prof at the Uni of Newcastle (just north of Sydney) - or at least will be when I start in November.

          After 24 years at the OU moving to face to face teaching will require some adjustment - but I think the issue of students being focussed on what they have to do to pass will be common across both contexts. As always I suspect assessment will be the driver of practice.

          Given my interest in what schools should be like to prepare students for whatever changes are going to happen in the world I think it is critical that I model for my ITE students the sort of pedagogy that I think is appropriate in 'future schools' - inducting them into valued ways of being and acting. Assuming that schools will have prepared them for spoon-feeding this will be a challenging shift.

          Watch this space ...

          Reply

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