To blog or not to blog – what academics are doing

Photo: SciELO.

Photo: SciELO.

In an article published in the British newspaper “The Guardian” on 2nd December, which can be found in the section entitled Professional : Higher Education Network”, the authors who are prominent researchers at the University of Nottingham and the National University of Australia look into the reasons why academics write blogs¹. And it seems that the reasons behind this are not those which you would actually imagine.

Generally speaking, the idea which spurs researchers on to write blogs is to write for the public at large in plain language, to help with the clarification of their own ideas, to disseminate the importance of science amongst laymen, and enhance the reputation of the scientists themselves. It is a way to bridge the divide that exists between academics and the rest of society. However, it seems that the majority of academic bloggers do not do it for the reasons given earlier. Rather, they prefer to blog for other reasons that are more related to their own work and personal interests.

When undertaking this study which was published in “The Guardian”, the authors selected 100 academic English language blogs published in the UK, the USA, Canada and Australia whose contributors included both researchers and professors, as well as the professional staff who carry out administrative tasks connected with university based research. When analyzing the content of the blogs and the comments which are made about the published postings, the following results were arrived at:

  • 41% largely focus on what is known as academic cultural critique – reflections on funding and education policy.
  • 40% are descriptions and comments on research which is being carried out.
  • The remainder deal with general topics, including advice on teaching and academic careers.
  • The writing style used is straightforward and informal.
  • Some 40% of the postings also use a more structured style of writing not dissimilar to academic journal articles, but with less intrusive referencing.
  • Three quarters of the content was geared towards other academic colleagues and only a third was written in a form which was simple enough to be read by laymen.

The conclusion of the study is that the majority of academic blogs are meant to be used to   interact with colleagues and not to be read by the general public, as one might think they were supposed to be. The world of academic blogging functions as a large global virtual common room where colleagues sit themselves around various tables to have intense discussions on:

  • Working conditions and matters of the profession.
  • The projects they are working on.
  • How to get contracts to publish books, and what to do to get a good CV.
  • Providing generous help and advice to colleagues.
  • Freely informing their peers of what they are doing, and in this way ensuring a certain degree of importance to their ideas prior to them being formally published in a peer review journal.

Thus, this panorama is far from the idea of “clarifying ideas, disseminating science to laymen and improving its image”, and is much less romantic than imagined.

The scenario of academic blogs is also beginning to get pressure from the bloggers’ own institutions. These informal discussions that are delivered in blogs, which include critiques that are made public sooner or later, are not to the liking of the universities in which the bloggers work, and the administrations do not consider those opinions to be part of the academic freedoms that researchers and academics enjoy. Rather, they are considered part of public relations and press briefings. Universities, particularly those in Australia, are beginning to regulate what can be said in a blog, and what sorts of things can put the reputation and prestige of the blogger’s institution at risk.

We are just beginning to understand the world of academic blogs, so we should pay attention to what happens in the more advanced countries, because sooner or later the same will happen in our developing countries.

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¹ Why do academics blog? It’s not for public outreach, research shows


Translated from the original in Spanish by Nicholas Cop Consulting.


Como citar este post [ISO 690/2010]:

SCIENTIFIC ELECTRONIC LIBRARY ONLINE. To blog or not to blog – what academics are doing [online]. SciELO in Perspective, 2013 [viewed ]. Available from:


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