On Writing Online

If it were not for the historical accident of print, we would put all of our work online and simply call it “publishing”. Indeed, all the debates around “open access” that are currently engulfing academia would be rendered null and void; we would disseminate scholarly material through interlinked documents that leveraged multi-media presentation and let people comment on their merit afterwards. In other words: web pages. Now, while that isn’t a way that we can work for traditional articles (at present, anyway), there are many good reasons for academics at all stages of their career to have a web presence, be that a simple profile, or a more engaged blog form.

In enumerating these reasons, let me first appeal to enlightened self-interest. Search committees for academic jobs use Google. If you ensure that, for your name, you are the top result, with good material available, it creates a favourable impression. Indeed, in a time in which we are asked to demonstrate impact and outreach, a professional looking web presence, such as that of Caroline Edwards in my field, says a lot about the person’s willingness to reach beyond the ivory tower. Beyond this, the blog form, coupled with social media, will connect you with communities of which you would be otherwise unaware. As a result of my web writings I have had conversations with neuroscientists and palaeontologists, despite working in literature. I also frequently receive requests for commissioned articles based on editors reading the texts of my conference papers that I have posted; indeed, this is how I began writing for the Guardian.

Beyond these more selfish, utilitarian reasons, though, blogging is a good form in which to think through germinative ideas. Shorter, more frequent, pieces allow a disciplined approach to daily writing that encourage community engagement and connection. With lengthy publication times for formal articles, it can sometimes be difficult to locate the few other people working on the same area. If you are blogging, then some simple search engine queries will reveal the people with whom you might profitably converse.

Blogging sometimes gets flack in the academic community as being trivial and, to some degree, I am done with advocating for the form; it works for me and it could work for you. However, I’ve come briefly out of retirement on this issue because I do see signs of its growing recognition within the academy and because I do want to encourage emerging scholars to write online. Somewhere between an article and a blog, new-form publications such as Alluvium (itself derived from Flow) are lending an additional a credence to the blog. Perhaps, though, we just need to get beyond the term “blogging”. This is actually just writing regularly online. This is thinking aloud and collectively. This is publishing. This is engaging publicly through technology.

Harry Tutoridge

I'm Harry, based in Oxford in the United Kingdom. I blog about all things digital, learning and the environment.

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