I am a blogging researcher: Motivations for blogging in a scholarly context
First Monday

I am a blogging researcher: Motivations for blogging in a scholarly context by Sara Kjellberg



Abstract
The number of scholarly blogs on the Web is increasing. In this article, a group of researchers are asked to describe the functions that their blogs serve for them as researchers. The results show that their blogging is motivated by the possibility to share knowledge, that the blog aids creativity, and that it provides a feeling of being connected in their work as researchers. In particular, the blog serves as a creative catalyst in the work of the researchers, where writing forms a large part, which is not as prominent as a motivation in other professional blogs. In addition, the analysis brings out the blog’s combination of functions and the possibility it offers to reach multiple audiences as a motivating factor that makes the blog different from other kinds of communication in scholarly contexts.

Contents

Introduction
Why do people blog?
Methodology
Functions of blogs
Motivations for being a blogging researcher
Conclusions

 


 

Introduction

With the advance of e–research or e–science, a digital scholarship is developing where researchers use information and communication technology (ICT) as an integrated part of their work (Borgman, 2007; Jankowski, 2009). Doing research in the digital age means new possibilities for studying digital content, as well as an increased use of certain digital tools. In addition, a commonly expressed idea is that social media enter into scholarly contexts just as they have entered everyday lives. However, even though the use of social media is expanding in research environments, they are not used as much as one might think (Harley, et al., 2008). One example of this expansion of social media in the field of research, however, is the increasing number of blogs. There is an increase both in terms of researchers reading blogs and researchers doing the blogging (Selg, 2008). The use of blogs by academics or researchers is particularly visible in the amount of so–called “science blogs” that can be found, for example, in journals such as Nature and Science, or from specialized Web portals such as scienceblogs.com or researchblogging.org. The target group or audience for these blogs is not necessarily only peers; the blogging activity can also be intended to disseminate research results to the public at large.

In this article, the point of departure is that scholarly communication practices, often based in a specific discipline, form an important part of researchers’ scholarly setting (see e.g., Fry and Talja, 2007). These practices are socially constructed and part of how researchers work and interact in their domains (Knorr–Cetina, 1999). Scholarly communication is motivated by the fact that researchers, in their search for new knowledge, want to legitimate their results by having them vetted by other researchers in their discipline (Becher and Trowler, 2001). In addition, formal publications, such as books and scholarly articles, are important for researchers’ qualifications. Furthermore, scholarly communication and scholarly publications function as tools for registering results, creating awareness, certifying the results, and archiving them for the future (Roosendaal and Geurts, 1999). When using new ICT, such as blogs, which make the communication accessible to a wider audience, the functions of the blogs and what motivates the blogging may differ from the traditional motivations for scholarly communication. In addition, the forms of scholarly communication vary greatly between different disciplines. The researchers who blog come from a wide variety of disciplines (Kjellberg, 2009a), which makes it interesting to ask why researchers from different research environments choose the blog as a tool. The aim of this article is to study the researchers’ motivations for blogging in a scholarly context. How do they describe the functions that their blog serve in their work as researchers? How do the blogs’ functions, in turn, motivate their blogging? And what audiences do they have in mind when they blog?

In the first section of this paper, I review previous research about blog usage, especially research concerning why people blog. I then present the results from an interview study with 12 researchers. An analysis of the researchers’ descriptions shows six functions of the blog in their communication practices. A further analysis of the descriptions yields different motivations for blogging. A third analytical level is added, derived from how function and motivation are tied together by the intended audience. I conclude that the blog plays an important part for the researchers who have adopted blogging as part of their scholarly communication practice. The researchers’ blogging practices include using the blog for multiple purposes and are motivated by the possibility for sharing and disseminating content. Blogs also play a part for creativity and for the feeling of staying connected with other people in the work as a researcher.

 

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Why do people blog?

For some years, blogs have been a well–known phenomenon on the Internet and a variety of studies have been conducted to investigate blogs from different angles (see e.g., Bruns and Jacobs, 2006; Rettberg, 2008). Blogs have been approached as a genre with typical features and similarities in formal qualities (Herring, et al., 2005; Miller and Shepherd, 2004; Rettberg, 2008; Kjellberg, 2009b). When blogs are treated as a text type, or a genre, their aim and motivation need to be taken into account. Several studies have discussed why people blog and how they motivate their blogging. In this section, I have drawn on both types of studies to present what is known about why people, and particularly researchers, blog.

In an interview study by Nardi, et al. (2004) on why individuals use blogs, the bloggers were chosen in and around Stanford University. The main aim was not to find researchers specifically, but some voices from researchers are present in their sample. Nardi and her colleagues found that some of the bloggers’ motivations were to “document their lives, provide commentary and opinions, express deeply felt emotions, articulate ideas through writing, and form and maintain community forums.” Another general study of blog usage, based on a survey of 212 bloggers and with a broader scope, including bloggers both as producers and readers, showed that ease of use, enjoyment, knowledge sharing, and social factors are part of bloggers’ motivation to continue to use blogs (Hsu and Lin, 2008).

So far, there has not been much research about the use of blogs in scholarly contexts. However, scholars who blog have discussed their use of the blog as a tool in different communicative situations (Mortensen and Walker, 2002; Aïmeur, et al., 2005; Todoroki, et al., 2006; Halavais, 2006; Walker, 2006; Davies and Merchant, 2007; Efimova, 2009). These papers often include arguments and motivations for the choice of maintaining a blog as part of scholarly practices. Halavais (2006) introduces the scholarly blog as “the notebook”, “the coffee house” and “the opinions page” and argues that blogging practices in scholarly contexts will be influenced by the academic culture and the ways of qualifying as a researcher. In spite of the impediment of traditional academic structures, he believes that the informal networks which are possible to create through blogging can be the motivation behind a continuing increase in scholarly blogging. Walker (2006) describes, in short, three kinds of research blogs: the blog as a platform for political debate, the “pure” research blog for reporting conducted research, and the blog about academic life. Although problematizing the presence of blogs in research practice, she also points out that blogs can be a help in developing ideas; they work to disseminate information and, at the same time, are sites for social interaction. Efimova (2009) explores in particular how a blog can be seen as a “personal thinking space” through an auto–ethnographic study of her own blogging practices. In her study, she focuses on how the blog plays a part in developing ideas by studying how she uses the blog for collecting and organising material for her Ph.D. thesis. In doing so, she also motivates her use by claiming that “the weblog allows easy access to the stored information from multiple computers, keeping relevant external information with personally meaningful context and links to the originals, as well as sharing information with others in a non–intrusive way.” [1]. Another auto–ethnographic study, performed by Davies and Merchant (2007), provides an insight into how blogs are used by researchers in their work as a new kind of text. In their conclusions, the authors identify some key aspects of blogging as a new literacy practice, including how blogging is tied to self–representation, how the blogging software facilitates specific textual practices, and how blogging supports the development of social networks.

Constructions of social networks in the blogosphere is something that has been investigated extensively (Bachnik, et al., 2005; Lin and Halavais, 2004; Herring, et al., 2005), particularly through studies based on linking behaviour, which can identify networks or communities. Instead of doing a similar network analysis, Luzón (2009) analyzed the reasons for linking, with a focus on academic blogs. He concluded that researchers use links strategically for multiple purposes. However, the motivations for linking are almost exclusively tied to the blog’s role as an interactive tool and to contributing to knowledge construction in the context of being a researcher.

One important point of departure in most studies of what motivates blog usage is that the uses of blogs are diverse and that blogging practices can differ between groups of bloggers. For this reason, Schmidt (2007) developed a framework for studying blogging practices, which is founded in social structuration theory. In his framework, aim and motivation are expressed as communicative goals and described as using blogs for information management, for identity management, and for relationship management.

A group of bloggers about which there is previous research is the users of blogs in professional practices in corporate settings. Studies of corporate internal blogs have shown that users find the social values and the chance to connect with a community to be important for their blogging, as well as informational aspects of the blogging (Jackson, et al., 2007; Huh, et al., 2007). Efimova and Grudin (2007) interviewed bloggers at Microsoft and found that the blogs were used as a space where the bloggers could share their enthusiasm for work. In addition, the blogs were used for documenting and organizing ideas and work practices. The blog was also a help in finding people inside and outside the company. The researchers highlighted that the benefits of blogging are not only for the blogger, but for the company and employer as well. In a more recent study by Yardi, et al. (2009), the researchers specifically considered the value of blogging when looking at a defined community of internal corporate blogs. Both writers and readers were included. One of their conclusions was that it is the perceived attention that motivates the bloggers even though few bloggers know how many readers they have. They also found that there are many expectations involved when keeping a corporate blog.

From the research reported above, it is clear that there is an interest among scholars for studying academic blogging, but until now it has resulted only in smaller, often auto–ethnographic, studies about this particular group of bloggers. Accordingly, it is particularly valuable to widen the empirical material and ask the bloggers themselves how they describe the function of the blog for them as researchers, and to look closer at the motivations for being a blogging researcher. Previous research describes the uses of blogs in different ways; some based on which types of blogs are present among the blogs they identify (Halavais, 2006; Walker, 2006), some by describing the motivations for using blogs (Nardi, et al., 2004; Efimova, 2009; Hsu and Lin, 2008; Yardi, et al., 2009), and some as the practices developed by using blogs (Schmidt, 2007; Davies and Merchant, 2007). Nevertheless, there are recurrent themes in the research presented above, which describes the function of blogs as: information or knowledge management, social purposes and interaction, establishing an identity and self–representation, expressing opinions, and acting politically.

 

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Methodology

In order to get the blogging researchers’ own descriptions of how they view the functions of their blogs and motivate their blogging, it was necessary to speak to the researchers, preferably in a personal meeting, rather than just read the blogs to extract that kind of information (see e.g., Kjellberg, 2009a). Consequently, in–depth interviews with researchers who blog were conducted during the spring of 2009.

Scholarly communication practices differ greatly between disciplines, and it was thus considered important for the study to interview participants from a variety of disciplines in order to capture descriptions of different voices of the functions of blogs. But the participants should still be available to meet for in–depth interviews. Accordingly, the possibility to meet in person was part of the selection principles. Furthermore, the researchers who were invited to participate should be active researchers (e.g., not having only teaching or administrative tasks), the blog should be actively used, with frequent updates, and the last update should not be older than a month.

The participants for the interviews were recruited by looking for active researchers who blog and who were situated so that they could meet in person. The researchers came from three different European countries: Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark. These countries are all fairly small and have social and cultural similarities. Higher education and universities are organized in similar ways, with the main part of the universities’ funding being governmental. There is an expectation that researchers share their research results publically, and interact with society and the industry. In all three countries, both doctoral students and senior researchers are free to take part in public debates without risking repercussions from their employers. From an earlier study of 67 academic blogs in Sweden (Kjellberg, 2009a), five Swedish blogs were selected and the researchers maintaining them approached. In addition, one interview was conducted with a well–known, very active Danish blogger, and a stay in the Netherlands made it possible to contact the blogging researchers of five additional blogs. A total of 11 blogs were identified as fulfilling the selection criteria. The researchers represented a variety of disciplines and positions. Bloggers were identified from the humanities, the social sciences, technology, and the natural sciences. However, no blog in medicine was included, because none of the surveyed blogs in the area met all selection criteria. Among the interviewees were Ph.D. students, postdocs, researchers, senior lecturers and professors. All researchers whose blogs had been selected agreed to be interviewed.

The empirical material consists of 11 interviews. One interview was held with the two contributors to the same blog, so a total of 12 persons are present in the material, seven men and five women. All interviews were recorded, transcribed in full, and anonymised. Total anonymity is difficult to achieve, however, since the bloggers are active and relatively well–known. All participants agreed that they were aware that there is a risk of identification when you have a well–known Web presence. To give an idea of the diversity of the participants, below is a list of the bloggers with title, research area, and name (pseudonyms) in alphabetical order. The pseudonyms have been used to identify the speakers in the quotes.

AndersProfessor in the humanities
Agnes and AnjaPh.D. students in the natural sciences
CarlSenior lecturer/postdoc in the social sciences
DavidPh.D. student in technology/the social sciences
EvaPostdoc in the natural sciences
JanResearcher/Senior lecturer in the social sciences
KlaasProfessor in the natural sciences
MariaPh.D. student in the natural sciences/technology
NielsResearcher in the humanities
PeterResearcher in the social sciences
TovePh.D. student in the humanities

Each interview was approximately one hour long and was performed as a semi–structured interview around a set of topics in an interview guide. All of the interviews except one were conducted in the researcher’s own environment, such as their office or on their university premises. The topics in the interview guide were divided into the headlines: the blog, blogging practice, how they describe themselves as being researchers, and scholarly communication practices in general in their discipline. The aim of this article is to study the motivations of researchers that keep a blog, and because of this point of departure, the critical or problematic aspects of blogging were not main topics in the interview guide. Some negative aspects were touched upon in the interviews, but it was never something considered vital for the bloggers.

Software called TAMS Analyzer [2] has been used to archive the transcripts and make it easier to mark up the interview statements with different themes. All of the interview transcripts have been analysed as a whole by looking for similarities and differences. When conducting the interviews, I perceived a saturation in the last interviews regarding the statements the researchers made about what functions the blogs had for them. In the analysis, six functions emerge as the most important when the participants express their uses of the blog in their research practice. Those six functions were used to articulate the motivations for blogging. The motivations reported below are thus analytically based on the statements from the interviews. In the conclusion, a new level of analysis has been added, where functions and motivations are tied together by looking at the intended audience. The findings are illustrated by quotes from the interviews. The interviews with the Swedish and Danish researchers were conducted in Swedish and the interviews made in the Netherlands were conducted in English. The quotes in Swedish have been translated into English, and the quotes from the interviews conducted in English have been copy edited to make the reading of the results easier. The results presented in the article are based on the interviews with blogging researchers, but the understanding I have gained from following and reading the blogs in question has helped me in analysing the interviews.

 

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Functions of blogs

The first step in analysing the interviews was to look closer at how the researchers talk about the different functions of their blogs. From the empirical material, six functions have been extracted. The blog can be used to disseminating content, expressing opinions, keeping up–to–date and remembering, writing, interacting, and creating relationships. These functions will be discussed and elaborated below. In some cases they overlap, and I will then explain how they relate to each other.

Disseminating content

The researchers mention that they see their blogs as a possible way to disseminate something they would like others to read. The blog’s open form, and the possibility of using a relaxed style in postings, makes it attractive to use in order to address a wider public in a way that most other scholarly communication does not. The most obvious use of the blog for dissemination occurs when the blogger talks about popular science or about making science or their discipline known to others. This is a question of making science or research available to more groups than their own peers. One researcher specifically points out that he works within a developing discipline and therefore felt that it is important to make information about the discipline available to a wider audience:

“I think, as a scientist, that is my personal belief, that you are paid by the government or by someone else, and I think you should spend a reasonable amount of your time in dissecting and disseminating your knowledge. It’s still a part of your job, not only teaching, but to [reach] another audience interested in your work. And the Internet is an obvious place for that.”
Niels

This researcher perceives his audience to be someone other than his students or peers. Something similar is noted by one of the Ph.D. students when he refers to how the organisation that funds part of his Ph.D. studies got enthusiastic when they understood that he would publish results in other ways than the traditional ones.

“One thing I ran into was that the target audience of my research doesn’t read scientific papers /…/ so what I wanted to try is to create an audience through blogging about … fun subjects or things I know or interesting resources or my own observations, and then mix that with my own scientific papers. So if I have a publication, I write an abstract about that and try to make it like ‘okay this is why it’s interesting to you’ and ‘here is the preprint PDF’, so they can access it, and I’m allowed to share that online.”
David

The funding organisation were pleased when they understood that “information gets disseminated throughout the industry and that it doesn’t stay within /…/ the scientific community” (David). In this way, the researchers use their knowledge as experts in their domain to disseminate research information. However, it is clear that they necessarily disseminate knowledge not only in their own field, as when one of the participants answers a question about her choice to blog about a wider range of issues and not restrict herself to her own discipline:

Interviewer: … and yet, you choose to blog about topics beyond your area of expertise?
Maria: Yes, as I see it, this way of thinking as a researcher, to be able to evaluate information and put it into context, and check sources and tie small pieces of facts together. I see that as something at least as important to contribute with as the actual facts.

Maria blogs about general science. She brings up a more complex aspect of dissemination when she says that a researcher has appropriated a certain way of managing and making use of information. A recurring topic in the interviews has to do with the fact that the researchers want to use references and point to their sources in the blog, in a similar way to how they do in regular communication within the scholarly environment. In this way, the researchers wish to share not only their expertise within a specific discipline, but also make the scholarly practice familiar to readers and show them how a researcher works. One blog was specifically concerned with topics about being a researcher and the different situations of making a research career, rather than being about disciplinary topics. Even though this blog was aimed primarily at young researchers, the blogger in charge made clear that he thought it could be a useful source for a much wider audience: “we write for scientists and for people that are interested in scientists” (Klaas).

Descriptions of blogging practices include, as one of the blog’s functions, the establishment of an identity and self–representation (Davies and Merchant, 2007). The researchers’ dissemination of content through their blogs works to disseminate knowledge about their existence to others, as a way of making themselves visible. One researcher talks about the blog in relation to other kinds of publications, such as journal articles: “/…/ to be visible and getting noticed, then the blog is actually the most effective” (Carl). Another participant calls it “your electronic presentation card” (Jan). The blog is used for disseminating content that the bloggers are interested in writing about, which contributes to creating an image of them. This image could be called their online identity. I will return to how the blogs work as a way of making the blogger better known to different audiences when discussing the use of the blog for creating relationships.

It was mentioned above that researchers can use blogs for dissemination targeted to different audiences. The interviewees mentioned the dissemination of research results to the general public as part of a researcher’s obligations. Other target groups often referred to are journalists and the media, as well as special groups of interest. One of the participants mentioned that “there are always these questions from journalists” (Niels). And of course, another target group for the blogs is the same as for the researchers’ other formal research publications, namely peers interested in research results or discussions about scholarly issues.

Expressing opinions

The blog can be used to express opinions in a way that is seldom possible in other academic writing. Blogging practice allows for a possibility to make a personal touch to what you write at the same time as it is not necessarily private. The researchers in the study often pointed out that there is a difference between being personal and being private. It is possible to provide commentary and opinions on various issues without mentioning things from your private life. One researcher states:

“I thought that the blogging format gave me the possibility to combine intellectual discussion with a personal style. I’m not the first to say that (laughs).”
Anders

Freedom also comes across as an important issue and something the researchers experience as something inherent in the blog as a tool. They have no–one to answer to other than themselves, since they are the publishers. All of the interviewed researchers had started their blogs on their own initiative, and none of the blogs were included in the researchers’ organisations’ domain address. This can be compared to corporate blogs, where the company sometimes plays an important part for how their employees set up their professional blogs (Yardi, et al., 2009; Jackson, et al., 2007). Several of the participants describe how they started reading blogs and how this made them interested in trying it out for themselves. One participant explains that she saw the possibility of expressing her perspective on things:

Interviewer: … but what was it that made you interested in the blog as a tool. You started reading and then there must have been something that triggered you?
Eva: Yes, it was probably the possibility to express my view on different things. I think the blog is good for that, it gives you the possibility to see several different perspectives.

The fact that in blogs you are actually allowed to write your own view of things is emphasized as an important feature. It is also viewed as something that makes the blog different from other kinds of communication that you use as a researcher: “a blog is more opinionating, I think …” (David). The blog can thus be used to take part in small debates on different topics. It is not unusual for the participants to have written in other formats that also provide a possibility for expressing opinions, such as newspapers:

“/…/ earlier I was very active in the political and public debate, but I could do less of that as the work with my dissertation took more time, so in a way this was something I missed. At the same time I was a bit tired of on the one hand political parties and on the other hand opinion pieces and editors and journalists …”
Peter

In the interviews, the blog is described as something that makes it easier to write from the author’s own point of view than is the case in more formal scholarly texts, and it also creates an opportunity to take part in political debates. Not all of the bloggers mention this, but it corresponds with one of the forms of research blogs suggested by Walker (2006), as being a platform for political debate. When the blog is used to express opinions, it is connected to the blog’s function as a tool for dissemination in that it is a matter of wanting to share information or content with an external audience.

Keeping up–to–date and remembering

Writing a blog helps the researchers in making the effort to read and discover new things in their research field, and also find things that they might have otherwise missed. One researcher refers to how the blog publishing has implications for how he keeps up–to–date:

“One very direct way for myself is that it’s a good way for me to force myself to keep up with my own research field. I have this external how do you say … incentive to publish a few times a week, which means you have to stay abreast of things.”
Jan

This aspect of covering the development in your field is something that several of the participants mention in addition to discovering things through Web sites or blogs that they would not necessarily find otherwise, through the ordinary scholarly journals in their fields. When one participant describes how she goes about blogging, she reflects on her reading of a broader scope of journals and Web sites:

“/…/ it’s also a good way to keep up–to–date. I’ve found a lot that is directly related to my research this way, which I wouldn’t have found otherwise.”
Maria

The researchers mention that their blogging practice helps them find information or keep up–to–date in their area of interest. The blog functions as an incentive to stay aware of what goes on around them and also helps them organise it in short pieces of text. The blog is, for instance, referred to as a “scrap book” (David), or a “note pad” (Peter), and is also talked about in terms of how it is a “way to sort small ideas” (Carl). In other words, it helps the researchers organise ideas and manage the information they collect.

“/…/all these ideas that were sort of already digested but I forgot again, so it is sort of … it helps me. It’s like this big closet full of small ideas that are nice to talk about. When I have to do some teaching and I think ‘hmm what about that and that and that’ then I just look at the blog and think ‘oh yeah’ suddenly there is this huge story because of all these ideas that you have condensed into 800 words. So that is sort of a side effect, so it is not a waste of time …”
Niels

One other participant calls his blog an “extended memory of his work” (Jan), and describes how he recycles what he writes in the blog for other purposes. Using a blog for this kind of knowledge management has been pointed out in previous research (see e.g., Efimova and Grudin, 2007).

The possibility of finding and reusing earlier writing is part of using the blog as a notebook (Halavais, 2006). However, as shown below, the researchers also describe how a blog differs from a paper notebook:

“And it [the blog] has obvious advantages in comparison with the notebooks I had earlier, for example that it’s readable, it’s easy to copy the text into an article, it’s searchable, I know where I have it. I don’t risk losing it or to spill coffee on it. It’s superior to a notebook in many ways … not all, because a notebook can get this special feeling, a smell or something else that produces associations, but on the whole, the blog is superior to the notebook.”
Peter

From my interviews, it is evident that blogs can be used as notebooks, even though this is not always obvious to see by looking at them briefly. Efimova (2009) makes the same reflection when she calls her blog a “personal thinking space”. The participants find the blog important for them in their work as researchers. There is an incentive to keep blogging, even though it takes time and even though they are not sure that there are readers others than themselves. In this way, the blog can function as a tool where you are your own audience, keep up–to–date and have ideas available as in a notebook. In the next theme, about how the blog is also important for the process of writing, this is even more explicit.

Writing

In the interviews, one of the most obvious themes is the blog as a tool for writing. They introduce the idea that the blog helps the researchers become better writers. The participants state that writing, in any form, improves your skills in formulating text or deleting unnecessary bits. It also helps you get more proficient in starting to write and to get over thresholds. The researchers highlight the importance of writing and expressing yourself through writing. One of the informants states:

“A lot of people think that it [the blogging] steals time from research, which I believe is a myth. I think just the opposite; it makes it easier to overcome writing thresholds and easier to articulate your ideas. It’s a writing support tool.”
Anders

This illustrates that the blog is seen as a place, and for some researchers a tool, for articulating ideas. This theme was also present in the studies by Nardi, et al. (2004) and Efimova (2009), but is otherwise not found in previous research about blogs. Writing is part of being a researcher, but sometimes it is difficult to find the time and a suitable forum for writing about things at length. However, the blog can help the researcher keep writing. One of the interviewees reflects on how his blog functions as a help to keep on writing on those days when he is mostly occupied with teaching:

“/…/so it’s a memory tool for me too where I can develop small ideas and the practice of writing … sometimes I think when I write that ‘ok there is an audience’, there is a reader. And I feel that it has been very useful for me, because I actually sit down every day and write something. On days when you have a lot of teaching and other things and you feel like you haven’t produced anything. Then at least I’ve given the blog a thought.”
Carl

This quote points out that the benefits of using a blog can be a combination of things, as in this case where the blog is a tool for remembering and for practicing writing. One thing that makes it easy to write in a blog is that it is acceptable to write about small things. The blog is perceived as lacking rules, regulations or structure. One researcher explains that when he started his blog, he “just started writing” (David). While the blog as a tool for writing is connected to the theme of keeping up–to–date and remembering, it is more focused on actually digesting what the researchers read.

“The most direct way is like with diaries, it just helps, it’s like reflection, and it’s important, and it’s a type of reflection you don’t otherwise do …”
Niels

In the interviews the choice of language came across as something that was important for the deciding on the blog as a tool for writing, for some researchers. The choice of blogging language is affected by which target group the researchers have in mind, but for some it is also a way to practice writing in English, if this is not their native language. In other cases, the researchers want to use their native language as an alternative to English, which is the predominant research language. One researcher explains how she could feel that she was losing her fluency in written Swedish because she always used English in her daily practice as a researcher. To her, the blog is important to get in touch with Swedish again.

“/…/ you get good at expressing yourself in Swedish. I felt that I was losing a lot of that because I worked with code, which is a kind of pseudo–English, and I worked with research articles in English, and I didn’t have daily contact with language. I noticed that I got worse at articulating myself because of that.”
Maria

The choice of language thus actually concerns the benefits the researchers get from writing in a language that, for different reasons, can be important to practice in the long run. The blog clearly plays a part in the researchers’ writing practices, and as such, they are their own audience. The blog helps them develop their writing skills, reflect, and express ideas.

Interacting

Most of the researchers are aware of the fact that the topics of their blogs will not attract high numbers of visitors in their blog statistics. One researcher says: “I don’t write about fashion” (Peter), and by that means that the academic topics do not attract the kind of attention that fashion blogs or other popular kinds of blogging do. This could make the interaction that is created through the blog less frequent and less vivid than is commonly understood to be the case with blogs. Even so, interaction is an important aspect of the use of research blogs. One researcher compares the dialogues that start around some blog postings with a seminar: “… and suddenly we have a kind of seminar going” (Anders).

Another researcher uses the concept of “crowdsourcing” to describe how he sees the usage of the blog:

Peter: Postings are often of a “work in progress” character, or they’re tentative or raise questions, and often it’s questions that people are welcome to brainstorm around in the comments and so forth. Which I’ve just learned can be called crowdsourcing — if you don’t want to outsource things, you can crowdsource them.
Interviewer: That’s an interesting concept.
Peter: Yes, isn’t it? And I hadn’t thought of this function before I started blogging, how useful and valuable it can be, because after a while when you blog systematically with a certain profile, a small and knowledgeable circle of readers emerge that can be of great help.

However, most of the researchers talk about interaction in a humble way, as something that is much appreciated but does not occur very often. Feedback can be in the form of confirmation or appreciation of the blogger’s writing:

“That, too, is something I think is fun about the blog in comparison to research articles, that you get more feedback and perhaps feedback that’s more friendly. In peer reviews, it’s kind of implicit that it’s meant to pick holes in your arguments. Of course that’s important too, but it’s not always so nice to be at the receiving end. While when you blog, you can get feedback like ‘oh, this is really interesting and, by the way, that makes me think of …’, and then they go off on a tangent, and sometimes you learn something new that you didn’t expect, and sometimes it’s very loosely connected to what you are doing yourself.”
Maria

But often the readers do not interact at all. The perceived readership is highlighted by Yardi, et al. (2009) as an important factor for blogging, and the actual amount of readership can be hard to determine. One of the researchers points out that he thinks that the interaction in blogs is exaggerated and that he experiences that blogging is more of one–way communication than a dialogue (Carl).

It is, of course, important how “interaction” is defined in this case. I view interaction as an action supported by the blog as a tool; a reciprocal action between the blogging researcher and someone in the audience. However, the interaction does not necessarily show up in the blog. There is certainly communication taking place, where readers contact the blogger not only by using the commenting function in the blog, but also through direct e–mail messages and, in rare cases, by using the phone or through face–to–face contacts, for example when meeting at a conference. Interaction can thus happen outside the blog. This is very closely connected to the next theme of creating relationships. Luzón (2009) concludes that the links used in academic blogs are strategically used as hypertext conversations for the creation of knowledge. In the interviews, researchers found that the blogs were mediators of interaction with others, and that interaction was a function of the blog, even though it was not necessarily visible by linking strategies in the blogs, as suggested by Luzón, or as a vast amount of comments.

Creating relationships

Previous research has suggested that blogging supports the development of social networks or relationship management (Davies and Merchant, 2007; Schmidt, 2007). However, the participants often do not perceive the connections they make by blogging as being specifically a network of bloggers. None of the researchers say that it is common to blog in their context or discipline. Rather, they highlight that blogging places them in a wider context. One of the doctoral students sums up how she feels that the blog makes it possible to be more relaxed in relation to others:

“/…/the net is this meeting place in a way. The room where you go in and talk on your own terms while … well, maybe it has to do with the fact that we’re Swedish, we’re not so good at getting in touch with each other otherwise. So it [the blog] has this marvellous capacity to be both a formal structure where it’s easy to take part and at the same time be extremely informal. So you’re not judged on how you look or on your [social or symbolic] capital, but for what you actually do when you’re there.”
Tove

This statement shows what is apparent from the interviews, namely that the researchers view the blog as an environment which facilitates getting to know others through blogging. This is not a case of interacting for a brief moment or for an on–going discussion. Some of the researchers also developed relationships with other bloggers because they have blogging in common. One researcher explains that she enjoys if someone comments or argues about something on her blog and she tries to do the same thing in other blogs. She sees a “sense of we” as something that might be interpreted as a network (Maria). The relations that are created through the blog make it possible to contact people that would otherwise be outside of the researcher’s normal context. These can be people with other specialities or from other disciplines.

“I definitely wouldn’t know any archaeologists if it weren’t for the blogging, these people that are from other domains than me. I think that’s an asset. Even though I don’t know them very well, they know who I am and I know who they are. If I need help with a specific question, I could probably send it to one of them, so you get this peripheral network of people you would never meet otherwise.”
Maria

However, as with interactions, the relationships that are created with the help of the blog do not necessarily show in the blogosphere in terms of links or comments. Jackson, et al. (2007) found something similar, when relationships and connections that started through a blog then continued outside of it through other forms of communication. It is rather rare, however, for the interviewees to actually see themselves as part of a network situated in the blogosphere, in the sense that they actively use the relationships to create a blogging community.

Instead, the researchers highlight how the blog benefits them in terms of invitations to do other writing, lectures, invitations to visit universities elsewhere and other bases for long–term relationships. One researcher told me about how he became a guest researcher at another European university, thanks to his blog.

“/…/ and they discovered the blog and then they looked up what my research was about on the Internet. Then they invited me as a visiting researcher at their university, last month for a month, so that was really great and all thanks to the existence of the blog, otherwise they wouldn’t have known that I even existed.”
Jan

In the interviews, the researchers suggest that creating relationships with other individuals is more relevant for them than community building as such. The relationships are formed as long–term acquaintances and are the outcome of some shorter interactions with someone in their audience. They are created both with other bloggers, who are not necessarily researchers or in the same discipline, and with people who have discovered or learned about the researcher through the blog.

 

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Motivations for being a blogging researcher

Motivations for why the researchers blog can be found in the answers to the interview questions. When the researchers describe how they use their blogs, they also indicate motivations embedded in the functions described above. I thus see the motivations expressed in the researchers’ statements about different functions. The analysis brings out at least three motivations for being a blogging researcher: the blog helps the researcher share with others, it provides a room for creativity, and it makes the researcher feel connected. These motivations will be described and discussed below.

Sharing

One aspect that emerges from the interviews is how researchers connect the use of blogs to the possibilities of sharing with others. The fact that the blog can be used for disseminating information and opinions contributes to how the blogger is motivated. The researchers are strongly devoted to their disciplines, which is visible in their wish to quite simply disseminate information about their specialties. In this context, researchers refer to an audience interested in knowing more about their subject area. In some cases, the readers, or target group, is not part of the academy, but rather to be found within the industry or other practically oriented areas. In these cases, the researchers find their motivation in reaching out to groups who do not read their other publications and to make an impact there, rather than within their own disciplines. For this purpose, the blog plays an important part as a publication forum.

However, the audience is not necessarily already there. One blogger talks about how he is “creating his audience” (David) through his writing and through the development of his blog. One force that drives the bloggers is to reach people they identify as interested in what they have to say. At the same time, most of the bloggers have a hard time defining those audiences as one target group.

The motivation also derives from the wish to express opinions. The blogs do not only report on research results; several of the participants use the blog as a platform for expressing their views in the public debates in which they are engaged. Furthermore, the blog can be used to initiate debates. By sharing their views on things, or their knowledge, the researchers become visible. In that sense, they build a reputation and an Internet presence by sharing or disseminating content, and at the same time make others aware of their existence. This theme of creating an online identity by sharing is also present in Luzón’s (2009) study of links in academic blogs.

Room for creativity

The blog’s function as a tool that helps researchers develop their writing is important: “it is like all writing, you develop yourself by writing” (Anders). Several of the participants point out how writing has played a major part in their lives and that the opportunity to write creatively in itself motivates them to blog. They refer to blog writing as generating positive energy and emphasise that it is not restrained in the same way as is the case with other writing for research. Many of the participants compare it to writing a newspaper column or other types of journalistic writing.

The researchers speak of the blog as being important for them personally, but also mention that they find it hard to separate the functions of the blog from being a researcher. Some of the participants describe that it is through the blog that they find inspiration for their research. The creative process is often mentioned in close connection to the idea that blogging is not a waste of time. The possibility of organizing ideas and reusing them is thus something that motivates blogging. Several of the researchers call attention to the fact that they view the blog as a catalyst for creativity.

The blogs’ significance for the bloggers’ research practice and for their creativity are frequent themes for the researchers. One important audience for the blog is thus the bloggers themselves or, to put it differently, one aim in maintaining a blog is for the blogger’s own sake. The researchers mention that not everyone likes to blog and that it is fundamental to like writing in order to be a blogger. The view of blogging as a creative activity is something that motivates researchers to keep doing it, even though it is unlikely to be viewed as a merit in their research career or in research evaluations.

Feeling connected

Previous research shows that networking and interaction are part of the blogging practice. The blogging researchers also use their blogs for interacting and creating relations. Even though the participants remain a bit hesitant in defining how much dialogue actually takes place in blogs, it is noticeable that they value the comments they see on their postings. It is also evident that the blog is important for creating relations both in the scholarly community and outside of it. As with sharing, feeling connected also has to do with self–representation and making yourself known.

One of the interviewed researchers points to this connectedness when describing her surprise at noticing how important the blog became for her feeling of inclusion (Tove). As when participating in conferences or other social events, the blog facilitates meeting others and provides the feeling of being part of something bigger. In this way, the blog contributes to making the everyday life of a researcher more interesting and funnier. The researchers in this study are concerned with being part of a connected whole and include that as an important aspect of acting as a researcher. Several of the researchers highlight the joy of being a researcher and explain that maintaining a blog contributes to that feeling. This suggests that being surrounded with interesting and interested people is significant for the creation of a good research environment. The blog contributes to this by creating opportunities for feeling connected and a part of a specific context.

 

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Conclusions

My results show that the researchers’ use of blogs are in many ways similar to previous descriptions of blogging practices. Six themes concerning researchers’ blogging practices were constructed, based on how the participants describe the function of their blogs. They describe how the blogs function as a way to disseminating content, expressing opinions, keeping up–to–date and remembering, writing, interacting and creating relationships. These functions are similar to previously described blog functionalities in terms of what part a blog plays in information or knowledge management, for social purposes and interaction, for establishing an identity and for self–representation and, finally, for expressing opinions and acting politically. However, there is a clear connection to how the blog is part of the bloggers’ practices as researchers, even though the blogs are not explicitly part of the researchers’ academic Web environments. The blog’s function in supporting their writing activities is particularly emphasized. Other motivations found in previous studies, such as documenting one’s life or expressing feelings, did not feature in this study, although personal style was important to the researchers, which is also supported by an earlier study about academic blogs (Kjellberg, 2009a). These results contribute more knowledge about the motivations for a group of researchers who blog, where previous studies have focused on very few individuals.

Not all of the bloggers use their blogs in all of the ways described above; the researchers’ intentions for maintaining a blog differed, from using the blog as an add–on to a specific book written by the researcher, to column–like reports on a certain topic, or to general reports on popular science. Even so, the picture drawn from the interviews is surprisingly unanimous with regards to how the researchers describe the adoption of a blog into their scholarly communication practice. The coherent picture provided by the interviewed researchers of how they use blogs as researchers, along with similarities to previous studies, increases the possibilities for making general assumptions beyond this study. Although most of the researchers cannot see that their blogging activity will give them any advantage in their careers in the near future, they are interested in continuing blogging and being part of developing this new genre. For them, what drives them to blog is quite clear. This differs from other research about blogging in a professional setting, such as concerning corporate internal blogs, where the endorsement from the organisation is an important motivational factor (Yardi, et al., 2009). That there is a difference may be due to the individual creation of each blog, and the fact that they are not part of a particular Web–based community, nor community–based in terms of a specific organisation.

The different functions of the blog corresponded to different audiences that the researchers have in mind. From the thematically described functions, it has been possible to identify different motivations for using a blog in these diverse ways. In Table 1, the interplay between functions and motivations for blog usage is shown, as well as how the different intended audiences play a part in describing how researchers use blogs. In a sense, there is an all–embracing motivating factor that emerges from the combination of functions that a blog can have and the related possibility of addressing multiple audiences or a combination of audiences.

 

Table 1: The interplay between function of and motivation for blog use in a scholarly context.
FunctionAudienceMotivation
Disseminating contentOthersSharing
Expressing opinions
 
WritingSelfRoom for creativity
Keeping up–to–date and remembering
 
InteractingSelf and othersFeeling connected
Creating relationships

 

The motivation originating in sharing knowledge with an external audience has perhaps previously been the one most evident in the explosion of “science blogs”, where researchers write about science and research in a popular way. This study shows that there is also an internal motivation for maintaining a blog as a tool for creativity. Different functionalities in the blog help the researchers write, remember, and come up with new ideas. Bloggers consider their audience when writing, even if that audience might at the particular moment be themselves. Furthermore, the blog has a social function that is not necessarily evident for readers who just pass by a scholarly blog, or who do not follow the blogging researcher over a longer period of time. To some degree the researchers themselves downplay the role of interacting and networking in the blogosphere in the interviews, despite the fact that the social function was present for blogging researchers as well. Often, someone who leaves a trace in the blog statistics can be enough to make the blogger feel connected. However, when a member of the audience occasionally leaves a comment or poses a question of some sort, either digitally or in personal meetings, the blogger gets a confirmation of this feeling of connectedness. This social function has stood out as something unique and important for the blog as a communication tool in previous research as well. The possibility of merging several functionalities into one tool, together with the potential to reach mixed audiences, motivate the researchers to blog. Further research concerning how the readers or audiences use researcher blogs would be an interesting follow–up study. It would be especially interesting to gain a better understanding of how information found in blogs is valued and how trust is negotiated among different target groups in this particular form of digital communication. End of article

 

About the author

Sara Kjellberg is a Ph.D. student in library and information science in the Department of Arts and Cultural Sciences at Lund University, Sweden. Her research interests concern researchers’ use of digital communication technology, especially blogs, and the technology’s significance for scholarly communication practices.

 

Acknowledgments

I would like to give my warmest thanks to the interviewees for their generous time and assistance. I would also like to thank the Virtual Knowledge Studio in Amsterdam for making it possible for me to stay in their inspiring research environment as a guest Ph.D. student during spring 2009.

 

Notes

1. Efimova, 2009, p. 293.

2. http://tamsys.sourceforge.net/.

 

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Editorial history

Paper received 23 April 2010; accepted 1 June 2010; revised 16 July 2010.


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I am a blogging researcher: Motivations for blogging in a scholarly context
by Sara Kjellberg.
First Monday, Volume 15, Number 8 - 2 August 2010
http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2962/2580





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