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article first, and then producing one or more blog posts based upon it - but then your blog posts would be years out of date, which undermines one of the useful elements of them.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?