Does academic writing matter like it used to?

Do blogging and other Web 2.0 tools have a negative impact on academic writing? One professor in England has noticed a substantial decrease in the output of his academic publications even as his blogging has increased over the past couple of years.

I think he makes a couple of extremely valid points:

  1. The motivation to write papers has decreased – apart from getting
    an RAE ranking, the main reason to publish is to share ideas and
    fulfill a creative urge to write. Blogging meets these needs better
    than formal publications.

  2. There is more than one way to
    network. I’m not a big fan of attending conferences (I’ve got enough
    bags, thanks), but I used to go to quite a few as this was the only way
    of getting to know those in your field. So, I used to write conference
    papers to achieve this aim. Now, I have a much wider and richer network
    through blogging and twitter, so that motivation is also reduced. I
    still think it’s valid, and meeting people face to face adds to that
    network, but it doesn’t have the monopoly it once did.

I suspect the first point may be impacted by your particular discipline. Some disciplines seem to be more “academically rigorous” than others, requiring practitioners of that discipline to produce quite a few academic publications over the course of a year (depending on the nature and complexity of the research question, of course). He is actually a professor of Educational Technology, which is a fairly new discipline, I think.

My own discipline, technical communication, is also a fairly new discipline, though its practitioners come from a long line of proto-technical communicators dating back thousands of years. However, the modern incarnation of technical communication is still trying to gain traction as an actual discipline like engineering and science. Fortunately for us, we (technical communicators) are wonderfully poised to take advantage of Web 2.0 technologies such as blogging and wikis to share our knowledge and practices with each other. Which leads to his second point.

In olden times (before Web 2.0), going to conferences was one of the only ways in which to meet fellow practitioners. Indeed, in my own field, we were sometimes surprised to meet up with fellow technical communicators at various scientific and engineering conferences because we somehow thought we were all alone. Technical writing conferences eventually sprang up simply so fellow technical writers could meet up with each other. I’ve attended several educational technology conferences in the past year (Helix, MITC, and our own Teaching and Learning Technology Conference, for instance). This has given me the opportunity to see others using technology and sharing ideas. At a conference at UMSL this past fall, one of the keynote speakers actually used a blog as his presentation (instead of using PowerPoint, which is the “traditional” technology).

The comments to Professor Weller’s posts are as interesting as the post itself. A couple of commenters (including the Professor) strongly recommend that PhD candidates use a blog during their research activities. This is an excellent way to capture ideas and thoughts as you are conducting your research. Although your blog postings won’t have the same academic writing rigor as a more traditional publication, they can help you not only organize your thoughts into something coherent, you can use them as a foundation for your actual academic publications like your thesis or dissertation. Furthermore, since the blog posts are all timestamped, you can see how your thoughts have evolved over time. Blogs also allow you to categorize each of your posts (like this one, for instance), which means your research blog posts can be indexed according to different aspects of your research.

Hat tip: Angie Hammons for pointing me at this article and asking some questions.