Why blogs endure: A study of recent college graduates and motivations for blog readership
First Monday

Why blogs endure: A study of recent college graduates and motivations for blog readership by Alison J. Head, Michele Van Hoeck, and Kirsten Hostetler

This paper reports the results from a mixed methods study of recent college graduates who were asked if and why they used blogs as sources for continued learning purposes. Findings are based on 1,651 online survey responses and 63 follow-up telephone interviews with young graduates from 10 U.S. colleges and universities. Despite the media’s declarations about the impending demise of the blogosphere, almost two-thirds of the respondents (62 percent) had read blogs to fulfill their learning needs during the past 12 months. Blogs were an affordable source of information to these readers, especially for acquiring additional knowledge and closing skill gaps in their personal lives after college. Results from a logistic regression analysis indicated respondents were more likely to have read blogs during the past 12 months if they needed step-by-step instructions for hobbies, do-it-yourself household repairs, or money management and creating a personal budget. Respondents who used blogs were also more likely to also use complementary sources, such as educational videos on YouTube, to meet their learning needs. The concept of shared utility is introduced as a basis for explaining reasons for use of the blog format, and conclusions are drawn about why blogs, an early Web form, are still useful to millennials as sources of continued learning.


Literature review
Research questions
Methodological issues




In the first decade of the 2000s, the diffusion of Web 2.0 technologies profoundly changed the creation, sharing, and consumption of information (Dede, 2008). At the center of this transformation were blogs: online diaries where writers and readers could freely comment, interact, and build communities around every imaginable topic, from professional practice and technology to food, travel, pets, and politics (Blood, 2004; Reynolds, 2006).

Within a few short years, the blog genre began to evolve. More blogs were being authored by public relations professionals and traditional journalists. Many blogs that had begun as outlets for personal expression became what one critic described as “more corporate and more ossified” (Carlson, 2009).

Soon blog authors began to migrate their postings to “micro-blog” sites, such as Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter (Kopytoff, 2011; Lenhart, et al., 2010). Newer social media platforms drew more social traffic, required less time and effort to create posts, and conveniently curated postings from a thousand sources into one place (Drum, 2015; Klein, 2015; Meyer, 2015).

Some technology writers began to declare the death of blogs, while others cautioned that the future of the blogosphere was uncertain (Kottke, 2013; Gillette, 2014). The evidence seemed undeniable: the number of blog authors declined as content that once served as the bedrock of the blogosphere transitioned to the next wave of social media platforms, and blog readership started to wane among young people (Zickuhr, 2010).

Yet when we conducted a qualitative study on continued learning a few years later, we discovered rumors of the death of blogs may have been premature (Head, 2014). Many of the 63 graduates from 10 U.S. colleges and universities we interviewed said they placed a high value on blogs, especially ones they had vetted for authority and used for guidance.

As one young graduate explained during our interviews: “I believe in the wiki voice, in crowdsourced knowledge — blogs cover so many topics, anyone can join in, anyone can edit, and over time blogs help me get to the real truth about something.” [1]

Findings from our early study (Head, 2014) suggest blog readership may be thriving in a more consolidated media landscape. In this paper, we present results from a new study in which we asked: What motivates recent graduates to use blogs today, and how do blogs fulfill their learning needs once they finish college?

The purpose of this mixed methods study was to examine blog readership today, and to investigate whether blogs that are still active and regularly updated draw certain types of readers and if so, for what reasons. In 2014, quantitative data were collected from an online survey of recent graduates from 10 U.S. colleges and universities (N = 1,651). Follow-up telephone interviews were conducted with a subset of 63 respondents in 2015.

Results from this study help to explain current motivations for blog readership. Moreover, the results have implications for educators, including librarians, regarding the preparation of students as lifelong learners in their post-college lives. Finally, the results add to research on how older Internet forms, like blogs, adapt within the greater media ecology as newer forms are developed and introduced.



Literature review

In 1997, the word “weblog” was coined in the U.S. by Jorn Barger on his Web site “Robot Wisdom” to describe a log of worthwhile Web sites (Rosenberg, 2009). A weblog provided regularly updated links to what its author considered the best of the Web on any given day.

These early Web pages, such as Justin’s Links from the Underground, were often positioned as part of a growing Web counter-culture. Such blogs importantly served as a guide as much as a “filter” to Web content and had two things in common: they were non-commercial and self-published (Blood, 2002).

Within a matter of years, the elements and forms of the blogosphere began to change. New software and social media platforms democratized publishing online. They also expanded blogging from a handful of HTML-coding pioneers to as many as one in 10 U.S. adults between 2005 through 2010 (Lenhart, et al., 2010). With these changes in authorship, the aims of blogs and blogging began to change, too.

An evolving genre

In one of the first essays on blogs as a genre, Blood (2000) described a foundational shift away from curation to self-expression. What made this change possible for both writers and readers was the introduction of Blogger software [2]. Blogger had a “stabilization” effect on the blogosphere in that blogs were transformed from an online filter into a format of Web writing (Siles, 2011).

At the center of the Blogger-created page, one wrote, and read, a blog entry as a “short-form journal.” Posts consisted of writers’ daily observations or reflections. Below the main post, Blogger’s template offered a place for readers to comment.

Equally important was the “blog roll,” located on the side of the screen. The blog roll allowed a blog author to add links to other blogs. With links moved from page center to the margin, the focus of blogs shifted from curating to community-building.

Blood claimed the significance of the blog roll was its identification of each new blogger as a member of a community, or “tribe,” based on shared interests. In this way, Blogger made blogs into visibly social spaces that encouraged interaction.

With Blogger’s widespread adoption, the blog took on the style we recognize today — interactive, frequently updated, and written in an informal and conversational style (Lomborg, 2009). Blogging, however, did not remain the province of diarists and counter-culture tech enthusiasts.

As early as the 2002 launch of Gizmodo, a collection of tech blogs, and Gawker, a gossip blog, some entrepreneurial bloggers attempted to make money from their writing. Most were paid through ads or reviews on their site. Very few blogs were supported by subscription fees. Andrew Sullivan, a conservative political commentator, was an exception, creating a well-known blog that used this fundraising model (Rosenberg, 2009).

Soon most newspapers began hosting a roster of blogs written by staff writers and guest columnists that were supported by media interests (Chang, et al., 2006). At the same time, scientists and other professionals began to incorporate blogging into their practice (Brumfiel, 2009).

By 2010, significant numbers of bloggers, 33-years-old and under, had migrated away from blogging to sites like Facebook and Twitter. This shift led to a greater proportion of blogs being written and read by older authors (Zickuhr, 2010). A timeline of some milestones in blog history appears in Figure 1.


Milestones in blogging history
Figure 1: Milestones in blogging history. For a larger version, see http://www.projectinfolit.org/uploads/2/7/5/4/27541717/blog_timeline.pdf.


Defining blogs

Today, blogs mean a host of things to bloggers, blog readers, and new media researchers. For our purposes, blogs feature frequent, medium-length posts (longer than a Facebook post but shorter than a magazine article), written in an informal style and reflecting an assumption of a community of regular readers, who often comment publicly on them.

We include in this definition self-published blogs as well as those hosted by traditional and new media publishing platforms that may exercise editorial oversight over blog content or comments. Similarly, we have not made the distinction between whether or not a blog author was compensated, directly or indirectly, for writing the posted content.

In the remainder of this review, we summarize key studies investigating the writing as well as reading of the blog format as we have defined it. We divide this review into three sections: (1) writing for a community of readers; (2) writing as an exercise in social learning; and, (3) reading as part of a shared community.

Writing for a community of readers

Much of the scholarly research on blogs has examined the early activity of authoring blogs. Nardi, et al. (2004a; 2004b) published some of the first of these studies. Using a small set of interviews of participants (mostly university students), they found bloggers were willing to share forms of personal expression online with anyone, whether they knew each other or not. Five factors motivated blogging: recording daily activities, expressing opinions, expressing emotions, articulating ideas, and creating a community forum.

Building on early research studies like this, Kahn and Kellner (2004) found that many bloggers had a strong political bent. Many of these “techno-activists” blogged out of a need to engage in democratic expression and a desire to build networks for political action.

Later research offered a different view of the motivations for blogging within specific communities. For instance, Kjellberg (2010) used interviews to study blogging communities of scholars from three European countries (N = 11). Yao (2009) interviewed Filipino immigrants in the U.K. (N = 8). Chung and Kim (2008) surveyed cancer patients in the U.S. (N = 113).

Studies such as these arrived at similar conclusions: the blog platform provided authors with a creative outlet for sharing information with like-minded individuals and connecting members through shared experience. Moreover, blogs made it possible for everyone to publish, not just traditional media players and their hired pens.

More recently, a new strand of research has emerged. Studies delved deeper into the role of blog-based community building and focused on family life blogs. Discussing the daily travails of parenting, these sites are often called “mommy blogs.” Despite some semantic disagreement over this label, scholars see these sites as contributing to the formation of an identity as a member of a community of mothers.

One quantitative survey of Australian “mommy bloggers” (N = 235) found their primary motivations included reciprocated communication, contributing to the welfare of others, and extending one’s own skills and abilities (Pettigrew, et al., 2016).

In another qualitative study (N = 22), Petersen (2014) found that “mommy bloggers” developed an “extra-institutional professional identity” in relation to their role in the home [3]. This identity included a sense of social responsibility to others doing the same work of raising children.

Taken together, results from these studies have found bloggers were motivated by a desire, and even a sense of responsibility, to join in and contribute to a public forum. Bloggers seem to be driven by a need to share information with others and forge relationships with regular readers.

Writing as an exercise in social learning

A majority of research on community-building and blogs has ignored the role blogs play in learning processes. One exception is a growing number of studies on the pedagogical use of blogs in higher education. A large-scale survey of faculty (N = 7,969), for instance, ranked reading and writing for blogs and wikis as the most common type of social media used for teaching (Seaman and Tinti-Kane, 2013). According to the survey, 27 percent of respondents used blog or wiki assignments in their classroom.

Other educational researchers have found that the ability to read, write, and comment in ongoing blog-based discussions with instructors and other students facilitates reflective thought (Deng and Yuen, 2011) and self-directed learning (Robertson, 2011). These two habits of mind are often associated with the development of lifelong learning competencies.

Moreover, the ability to comment on blog posts has been seen as an immediate confirmation of peers as an audience. This connection can create a bond between blogging classmates. Lee and Bonk (2015), for instance, found that students who commented on class blogs were more likely to feel a sense of belonging, which continued in the students’ face-to-face class activities.

But not all researchers agree with this assessment. Deng and Yuen (2011) questioned the assumption that blog readers benefit only from commenting and writing content for blogging assignments. Their survey results indicated that “passive” participants reported the same sense of community and increased reflection as did those who commented.

Despite numerous studies on the use of blogs for learning in higher education, most have limited generalizability due to a reliance on convenience sampling. More importantly, these studies were typically conducted within existing groups of students in specific classes rather than among blog readers who did not already know each other.

There are therefore limitations to applying findings from formal learning settings to understanding blog readership. The educational realm has clearly defined elements of teacher, students, and grades, as opposed to the much wider and less structured landscape of informal learning outside the academy.

Reading as part of a shared community

Even though the literature on motivations for writing blogs is extensive, few studies have examined the activity of reading blogs. Pew’s Internet Project with research on Internet usage patterns and blogs is one exception. In the first decades of the 2000s, Pew reported that blog readership was on the rise and an integral part of being online for some Americans who used the Internet.

Pew found blog readership in the U.S. jumped from 11 percent to 27 percent between 2003 and 2004, even though 62 percent of Internet users still had no idea of what a blog was (Rainie, 2005). In 2008, Pew reported one in three — 33 percent — of their survey respondents read blogs and 11 percent followed blogs daily (Smith, 2008).

In 2010, Pew issued two of its last reports measuring blog usage (Lehnart, et al., 2010; Zickuhr, 2010). Both reports focused on the demographic changes to blogging and to a lesser degree, changes to blog readership. Both studies found that young adults, once avid bloggers, were blogging less. Another 2010 Pew study showed that reading and commenting on blogs had dropped by half among teens (Zickuhr, 2010).

Beyond measuring blog readership, a fair amount of research has examined the readership of political blogs (Baumer, et al., 2011; Lawrence, et al., 2010; Sankaram and Schober, 2015). Emerging from these studies are discussions of the critical, often explicit, role of the blog reader to the blog writer.

One notable study provided an in-depth exploration of issues of blog reader participation and sense of belonging (Baumer, et al., 2011). Using interviews with a small sample of both bloggers and readers of political blogs (N = 12) the researchers concluded that blog readers are more than just an audience, they are also co-creators. Researchers concluded that readers not only contributed content via their comments, but also helped set the tone and even helped shape a blogger’s identity as a writer.

Other studies have adopted the uses and gratification approach with useful results for understanding blog readership. This social-psychological communication framework was originally used by pioneering researchers such as Herzog (1944) and Katz, et al. (1973) to study traditional media. Instead of investigating how media affects people, uses and gratifications research has a long history of examining how, and the reasons why, people are motivated to use different kinds of media.

In one large-scale study, Kaye (2010) employed a uses and gratification approach to investigate blog readership. The data was collected from an open online survey posted on 70 news blogs (N = 2,397). A factor analysis indicated that the strongest association with respondents’ reasons for reading blogs was timely and in-depth content.

Drawing on the uses and gratification approach, Jarreau and Porter (2017) surveyed science blog readers (N = 2,955), using a set of 15 motivation statements adapted from Kaye’s instrument. Factor analysis indicated the strongest motivational factors for reading science blogs were “unique information seeking” and “community seeking.” [4]

Applying the same framework and method to a more specialized audience, Chung and Kim (2008) examined motivations for blog readership by people with cancer and their caregivers. Based on a survey of frequent readers of cancer blogs (N = 113), the two strongest motivations of blog use were “emotion management” and “information sharing.” [5]

These studies lend credence to the uses and gratification framework by providing empirical support for earlier theoretical work. In the past, uses and gratification studies have been criticized for overemphasizing the role of the user of traditional media, such as television and radio. But the inherent interactivity of social media platforms like blogs, has expanded the research potential for this framework in the new media landscape (Ruggiero, 2000).

Gaps in the literature

Taken together, much of the research on blogs has focused on why individuals write blogs and engage with others in the digital space. There has been much less research interest in why people read and follow blogs.

Many of these reader-focused studies have been conducted within the formal learning environment of higher education [6]. Still, there has been little attention given to how blogs may facilitate informal and non-formal learning [7]. All in all, few studies have investigated why people to turn to blogs to meet their different learning needs.

The purpose of our research is to help fill these gaps in the literature. To that end, we collected quantitative data about the current state of blog usage. We studied readership by administering a survey to a large sample with a majority of 20-somethings who had graduated from a U.S. college or university between 2007 and 2012.



Research questions

Our study goals were threefold: (1) to investigate how many recently graduated college students read blogs; (2) to explore reasons why graduates who read blogs relied on the early Web form; and, (3) to examine under what circumstances graduates read — and did not read — blogs as sources of continued learning in their post-college lives.

Five questions guided this study:

  1. What proportion of recent graduates in the sample had read blogs during the past 12 months?
  2. What blog characteristics motivated graduates to read blogs?
  3. How was blog content used for learning in readers’ personal lives, their workplace, and the communities where they lived?
  4. What kinds of learning needs were blog readers more or less likely intending to fulfill?
  5. What other learning sources were blog readers more or less likely to use?




The research in this paper was conducted by Project Information Literacy (PIL), an ongoing scholarly study of U.S. college students in the digital age [8]. Blog readership was examined as part of a two-year, large-scale study on the continued learning needs and information-seeking behavior of recent graduates in the U.S. [9]

Data were collected in two phases that used a mixed methods approach: (1) a large-scale online survey in fall 2014, and (2) follow-up interviews from a sample of survey volunteers in spring 2015. The phrases lifelong learning and continued learning were used interchangeably in the survey instrument and follow-up interviews to define the activity of ongoing learning [10].

Prior to any data collection during the two phases of the study, we prepared and submitted a research protocol to the Institutional Review Board (IRB) at the University of Washington, where the study was based in the Information School. Once we had received approval, we underwent an IRB review at each of the nine remaining institutions in the sample.

Phase one: Large-scale online survey

From 9 October 2014, through 15 December 2014, the Alumni Divisions at 10 U.S. colleges and universities sent invitations for study participation. The sample was limited to graduates who made their e-mail addresses publicly available and who had completed their undergraduate education between 2007 and 2012 [11].

At institutions with enrollments of more than 10,000 full-time students (and thus a larger number of graduates each year), a random subset sample of eligible respondents was used. Otherwise, in schools with fewer students, a voluntary sample was used.

The study was defined as being about learning needs and information sources participants had used since receiving either a: (1) B.A. or B.S. from a four-year college or university or, (2) certificate or A.A. from the community college. The survey was pilot tested before its administration and wording of questions was clarified, where needed.

Together, a total of 123,186 email invitations were sent to graduates from the 10 institutions in the sample. Of this total, 1,651 respondents completed the survey. Nearly all of these respondents (99.7 percent) answered all of the survey questions. However, the overall response rate for the aggregate survey was 1.3 percent. While this response rate was far lower than previous PIL studies, it was typical for alumni office survey requests [12].

On average, the 23-question survey took 11 to 13 minutes to complete. Thirteen of the survey questions asked about lifelong learning needs, sources consulted (including blogs), and learning preferences and challenges. Two questions asked specifically about readership of blogs. A dichotomous question was used to collect data about how many blogs respondents had read during the past 12 months. Response categories for “none” and “don’t know” were also included. Respondents were asked to “check one” for the category that best represented their experience.

Another question, using a Likert scale, was used to find out the reason why respondents did (or did not) read blogs. A matrix grid featured a five-point agree scale ranging from agree to disagree so respondents could respond to the eight statements about why they read (or didn’t read) blogs. Response categories for “no experience with this situation” and “don’t know” were also included in the available responses. Respondents were asked to “check all that apply.”

An additional eight questions collected demographic data. Table 1 provides a demographic description of the survey sample.


Table 1: Description of the online survey sample.
Type of college  
   Private college or university (four-year)34321%
   Public college or university (four-year)1,22674%
   Community college (two-year)825%
   Total responses1,651100%
Year of college completion  
   Total responses1,651100%
Age range  
    20–24 years old17411%
   25–29 years old1,04964%
   30–34 years old19412%
   35–39 years old543%
   40–59 years old966%
   60 or older121%
   Decline to state724%
   Total responses1,651100%
   Decline to state181%
   Total responses1,647100%
Major/area of concentration  
   Architecture and engineering1328%
   Arts and humanities33320%
   Business administration (including accounting)24915%
   Computer science and information management483%
   Occupational training (i.e., nursing certificates)1368%
   Physical and life sciences (includes math)19112%
   Social and behavioral sciences23714%
   Other: Includes multiple majors24415%
   Total responses1,646100%
Grade point average (GPA)  
   Below 2.7775%
   Decline to state775%
   Total responses1,646100%


More respondents (20 percent) had degrees in arts and humanities than in any other field. The sample, also included graduates who had been awarded degrees for multiple majors (15 percent), business administration (15 percent), social and behavioral sciences (14 percent). Fewer respondents had received degrees in occupational training (eight percent), education (five percent), or computer science (three percent). The largest percentage (38 percent) reported that their GPA at graduation was in the range of 3.4 to 3.7 [13].

Over three-quarters of respondents (77 percent) reported being employed full time at the time they took the survey. A smaller percentage of graduates (three percent) was self-employed, working part-time (10 percent), or were not currently employed (eight percent) [14]. Of these, a majority (55 percent) of graduates were working in the field they had studied in college.

Since receiving their undergraduate degree, almost a third of the sample (28 percent) had attended graduate school. Participants who were community college graduates had gone on to graduate from a four-year college or university.

Phase Two: Follow-up interviews

Follow-up interviews (N = 63) were conducted from 26 May 2015, through 19 June 2015, with survey respondents who volunteered their time [15]. The unstructured interviews were used to uncover trends to dive deeper into the information-seeking practices of study participants.

The interview sample was segmented along three lines: (1) existence of continued learning needs; (2) usage of learning resources, including blogs, for learning; and, (3) challenges with continued learning. Each interview was conducted by telephone and lasted from 15 to 20 minutes. Interviews were audio taped with the permission of the interviewees.

A script with eight open-ended questions was used for interviews. The script was pilot tested and wording was clarified before interviewing began. Table 2 provides demographic data about the follow-up interview sample.


Table 2: Description of the follow-up interview sample.
Year of graduation  
   Total responses63100%
Age range  
   23–25 years old1117%
   26–30 years old3759%
   Over 30 years old1524%
   Architecture and engineering711%
   Arts and humanities914%
   Business administration (including accounting)610%
   Computer science and information management35%
   Occupational training (i.e., nursing certificates)35%
   Physical and life sciences (includes math)813%
   Social and behavioral sciences1016%
   Other: Includes multiple majors1219%
Grade point average (GPA)  
   Below 2.712%
   Dob’t remember46%
   Decline to state12%


More than half of the interviewees had completed college either in 2007 (11 percent), 2008 (24 percent), or 2009 (17 percent). More than three-fourths of the interviewees were between 26 and 30 years old (59 percent) or 23 and 25 years old (17 percent).

Two-fifths of the participants (14 percent) had a degree in arts and humanities, social and behavioral sciences (16 percent), or physical and life sciences (13 percent). Slightly fewer had degrees in architecture and engineering (11 percent) or business administration (10 percent). The most frequently reported GPA was in the range of 3.4 to 3.7 (44 percent).



Methodological issues

There are always challenges when using survey methods in research studies. In this study, one issue we had was with sampling. The samples for the 2014 survey and 2015 follow-up interviews were both composed of self-selected volunteers from a larger population of recent college graduates. Such samples are potentially biased in unknown ways. Specifically, there is no basis for making inferences to the population from the sample responses used.

A related issue is the survey response rate. Clearly, the response rate to our survey (1.3 percent) is too low to be generalizable to the entire college graduate population. While response rate is important, it matters more in descriptive than in analytical studies. Because our study is an analytical study, we can argue that these relationships do exist in the larger population and could be seen in any sample used to describe them.

In a larger sense, issues about the importance of a high response rate has been questioned in the last decade. The American Association of Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) has published provocative studies claiming that the relationship between response rates and survey quality has become less clear and may matter less than previously thought [16].

While it may be difficult to argue about the level of use of a specific information-seeking technique, a focus on relationships in the data set allowed us to test the robustness of what has been found. In other words, the goal was not to infer the generalizability of a finding to a larger population of graduates who may live anywhere.

Instead, with our analytical approach, it can be argued that these relationships do exist in the larger population and could be seen in any sample used to describe them. At the same time, however, we acknowledge that further research is required to confirm our findings.




The study examined how blogs may be fulfilling readers’ learning needs in their first decade after college. An online survey and follow-up interviews were used to examine blog readership. Survey results indicated blogs were a recent destination for nearly two-thirds of the sample (62 percent) (Figure 2).


Results show how many respondents had read blogs in the past 12 months
Figure 2: Results show how many respondents had read blogs in the past 12 months (N = 1,020).


Twenty-six percent of respondents followed one or two blogs, whether or not they had an RSS feed (Figure 3). Far fewer had followed more than 10 blogs (nine percent). When follow-up interviews were conducted with a subset of the survey sample, participants said they had read blogs to improve their skills or acquire additional information. This often included reading about a range of topics from news and finance to hobbies and how-to basics.


Number of different blogs read in the past 12 months
Figure 3: Number of different blogs read in the past 12 months (N = 1,641).


Interviewees mentioned having read the following blogs: The Huffington Post blog page, Business Insider, TechCrunch, LinkedIn, Confessions of a Pioneer Woman, and Abnormal Returns. Some used an aggregator to manage daily blog content and could not recall the names of individual blogs they read.

Notably, the survey results contrasted with results from our earlier study of college students’ information practices (Head and Eisenberg, 2010). In the previous study, few undergraduates (37 percent) consulted blogs for finding information for solving information problems in their everyday lives. The discrepancy between the results of our 2010 and 2014 surveys about blog use may be due to the difference between the study populations, their learning needs, and access to information resources [17].

Reasons for using the blog format

Blog readers in the survey sample turned to blogs for a variety of reasons (Figure 4). More than anything else, readers (71 percent) relied on blogs because they were an affordable source of the kind of information that graduates needed. Over two-thirds of the sample that had read blogs (69 percent) reported that blogs were a source of up-to-date information. In our follow-up interviews, the blog readers we interviewed said they would not have been able to afford to hire this quality of expertise so they relied on blogs for guidance, instruction, and advice.


Number of different blogs read in the past 12 months
Figure 4: Number of different blogs read in the past 12 months (N = 1,641).


Blogs also offered readers good summaries of topics (61 percent) they could not find elsewhere. Interviewees said they could find tips from insiders in blogs that they could not find using other sources, such as books, newspapers, a Facebook feed, or conversations with friends. One interviewee, who had recently moved to New York, described using her neighborhood blog to stay up to date:

Blogs can get very specific about your neighborhood and they can cover just one neighborhood in a large city that newspapers really don’t and can’t. People who write for these blogs are on the ground and they’re involved in the community. Blogs like this are very up to date. Several posts come out a day. If something happens, they’re on it immediately. You know what’s going on — what businesses are coming, what businesses are closing.

For most of the survey respondents who were readers (59 percent), blogs were valued for presenting candid viewpoints that mainstream media did not provide. Some interviewees said they granted blog voices higher credibility, since the bloggers they followed were rarely compensated, unlike the writers from traditional media — publications that graduates we interviewed said they tended to mistrust. Notably, none of the graduates in our follow-up interviews mentioned sponsored reviews, which are a form of advertising on some blogs.

Reasons that graduates gave for consulting blogs were also related to the ease of access from sites like Google search. Six in 10 of the readers reported that search engines made blogs easy to find. Slightly fewer (55 percent) reported using blogs because the platform allowed for ongoing discussions with multiple voices about the topics of interest. Far fewer respondents (12 percent) read other people’s blogs because they had their own; only 29 percent of the sample described themselves as active blog authors.

Building on skills not learned in college

Over half of the graduates surveyed — 56 percent — had read blogs as a source for informal learning in their personal lives during the past year. To a lesser extent, about a quarter of the respondents had turned to blogs to learn the skills they needed to succeed in the workplace (26 percent).

Far fewer — 12 percent — had used blogs when they wanted to learn about services and opportunities in the communities where they lived. Only one in 10 had read blogs for all three parts of their lives — personal life, workplace, and community. Figure 5 presents a breakdown of blog readership by the areas that graduates sought to improve their skills or gain knowledge.


Results show what proportion of recent graduates read blogs as continued learning sources in their personal, their workplace, and community lives
Figure 5: Results show what proportion of recent graduates read blogs as continued learning sources in their personal, their workplace, and community lives (N = 1,020).


More than anything, blog readers we interviewed said they wanted career and professional development guidance and information. Most said they were steadfast in their search for information about new positions and opportunities in and beyond their current place of employment. Some said they spent a lot time learning career development tips and scrambling to improve their interpersonal communication and technical workplace skills.

Most graduates said blogs were useful for helping them pick up the skills they had not learned in college but that they now needed for their careers. Some explained that consulting blogs helped them negotiate a raise, delegate tasks to workers older than themselves, or keep current within their field.

One interviewee, a teacher who read blogs to get ideas for the classroom, said “learning is like a big puzzle after college so you have to use a combination of resources — people and online sources.” Another interview participant explained that blogs provided essential professional tips:

My job is to write songs, book jobs, and perform, so I had to teach myself these skills. Booking a tour takes a lot of research, like how to route the tour, how to advance and advertise the shows; things I’d never done before. I learned about music and how to sing well and perform in college, but I didn’t learn how to be an entrepreneurial musician. There are a lot of DIY musicians’ blogs I read every week, CD Baby is one, where they break down the industry for you. Blogs like these help me learn something new every single day that make my business successful.

When it came to learning about the communities where they lived, most graduates we interviewed were involved in figuring out the daily necessities of living in a community — where to shop, dine, or see a movie. A few said blogs, like Nextdoor, were useful for resolving these issues as well as keeping up on neighborhood news.

As a follow-up analysis we examined blog readership by gender. The large majority of the respondents that were blog readers were female, whether they read blogs in their personal lives (68 percent), for use in the workplace (62 percent), or local community (69 percent). Figure 6 presents a breakdown of blog readership by gender in the three areas of graduates’ lives that we studied.

Results show a breakdown of how many females and males read blogs as continued learning sources in their personal and professional lives
Figure 6: Results show a breakdown of how many females and males read blogs as continued learning sources in their personal and professional lives (N = 1,020).


Predicting the likelihood of blog readership

As the survey results demonstrate, more graduates used blogs as a learning source in their personal lives than in their workplace or local community. We conducted a logistic regression analysis to examine this trend. The results were used to examine under which circumstances blogs were more likely to be used — and not used — by graduates in the sample.

The model’s dependent variable was the readership of blogs in graduates’ personal lives. The model contained nine independent variables separated into three categories:

  1. Use of other information sources: news (all forms), social networking sites, and educational Web sites, in graduates’ personal lives for continued learning.

  2. Presence of a continued learning need: “how-to” information, hobbies, and finances in graduates’ personal lives.

  3. Use of people as sources: friends, family, and co-workers, in graduates’ personal lives for continued learning.

The full model containing all of the predictors of information source usage and learning needs correctly classified 70 percent of cases in the overall sample (N = 1,159). Seven out of nine of the independent variables made a statistically significant contribution to the model about information source usage at the 0.05 percent alpha level.

The results of the analysis are presented in Table 3. The independent variables that made a statistically significant contribution to the model are marked with an asterisk and in bold font in the first column. The associated p-values of the standardized partial regression coefficient and the odds ratio are also bolded.


Table 3: Predicting the probability of reading blogs for continued learning (N=1,159).
 Estimate of BS.E. of Bp-value of BOdds ratio95.0% C.I. for Odds ratio
Educational Web sites*0.9880.12502.6862.1013.434
Social network sites*0.70.15302.013*1.4912.718
News sources*0.4830.1390.0011.621*1.2332.129
How-to information*0.3430.1450.0171.41*1.0621.871


In this model, the intercept value has a value of 0.078. Since this value is less than 1.00, the odds are that respondents were less likely to consult a blog under these circumstances than they would be if the odds were equal (1.00).

For certain areas of knowledge seeking, however, the odds did go up. For hobbyists, it was more likely that these respondents will seek information from a blog than will not. Moreover, those seeking do-it-yourself solutions or guidance about finances were also more likely to have read blogs than not.

A summary of the statistically significant predictors in the model about blog readership where the odds increase is as follows:

  1. Above all else, respondents using educational sites during the past year were three times more likely to have read blogs than not, with an odds ratio of 2.7 (controlling for all other factors in the model).

  2. Those survey takers using social network sites (e.g., Facebook) were twice as likely to be blog readers, with an odds ratio of 2.0 (controlling for all other factors in the model). Survey respondents who reported reading news sources were one and half times more likely to be blog readers, with an odds ratio of 1.6 (controlling for all other factors in the model).

  3. Respondents in the sample looking to learn about hobbies were twice as likely to have read blogs, with an odds ratio of 1.8 (controlling for all other factors in the model). Those in search of how-to information or financial guidance were about one and half times more likely to have read blogs, with an odds ratio of 1.4 (controlling for all other factors in the model).

  4. Respondents who turned to co-workers as a learning source were one and half times more likely to read blogs, with an odds ratio of 1.4, than respondents who did not (controlling for all other factors in our model).

While our model found seven of the independent variables were statistically significant, another two were not. These variables were the use of family or friends as continued learning sources. These results are worth acknowledging, especially since they may be useful to future research.

Even though some graduates may have mentioned turning to friends and family members as learning sources in the follow-up interviews, they had little bearing on blog readership under the circumstances used in this model. The reasons why, however, are unknown from the design of our study. This limitation of our study presents an opportunity for future researchers in education and new media.

To our knowledge, this is the first study to examine the blog readership in relation to the continued learning needs young graduates were seeking to fulfill. The results suggest that blog readers we studied used complementary learning sources such as educational videos, social network sites, and the news. These resources are kept up to date and curated, two characteristics that mattered to blog readers.

Moreover, the results confirm (and calculate the odds) of blog readers’ information needs. Graduates were more likely to be blog readers if they needed step-by-step basics for their hobbies, how-to information for solving problems around the home, or money management tips. In this sense, the results of the logistic regression confirm what we heard from participants in the follow-up interviews.




Since 2010, there has been widespread discussion about the demise of the blogosphere, especially as many former bloggers moved their content to Facebook or Twitter. But the results of our study suggest otherwise. A clear majority (62 percent) of respondents to our survey had read blogs regularly during the past 12 months.

Most of the 20-something readers we studied had turned to blogs for how-to solutions they could apply in their personal lives. Almost two-thirds of the readers in the sample were female, much higher than what other researchers have found about the male-dominated world of blogs. Further research, however, needs to be conducted in order to see if gender is a factor of blog use and continued learning.

Our logistic regression results provide further insights into the circumstances under which readership was occurring in readers’ personal lives and why. We found that respondents who had read blogs in the last year were more likely to use a combination of educational websites, social networks like Facebook, news sources, and co-workers. Moreover, respondents were more likely to read blogs for specific reasons, such as information about hobbies, how to fix urgent problems around the house, or manage their money.

Our results confirm findings from our earlier qualitative study of recent college graduates who read blogs (Head, 2014). Together, the pair of studies suggest that blogs are useful to many young graduates, especially as an affordable learning source that gives graduates information they need at a given time in their lives.

The data presented in this paper expand on our prior research by offering more detailed findings drawn from a much larger sample and using a mixed methods approach of a survey and follow-up interviews. It is in this way — the mixed methods approach and the insights gleaned from the data analysis — add to the research literature about motivations for blog readership.

Shared utility

Based on the data we collected, we concluded that two characteristics of blogs — utility and interactivity — help explain why destinations like Business Insider or LinkedIn were so popular among young graduates. We call this combination of characteristics shared utility.

More than anything, our results suggest blogs had great utility as no-cost information sources for young graduates. This was especially true when they could not afford to buy books, hire an expert, or take a class, according to the graduates we interviewed. Blogs were particularly useful because they provided good summaries that often helped graduates close their skills gaps with sound and trustworthy information.

According to our interviews, graduates read blogs for help with life skills. Among these skills were setting up a household or grocery budget, decorating their home affordably, improving their interpersonal communication skills, raising their children, buying their first house, building a business, or fixing a computer. Acquiring life skills such as these required a different kind of learning source, which was often hard for the interviewed graduates to find elsewhere.

To a lesser degree, some graduates said they read blogs to keep up with the fast pace and demands of their workplace. These blog readers had learning needs that were specialized and that kept them up-to-date and employable in their field. For instance, accountants and auditors said they needed more financial skills. Computer programmers had to brush up on technical skills for developing algorithms and writing code. New teachers needed to learn more about child development and lesson plans for working with children. Still some others said they read blogs to figure out the daily necessities of living in a new community — where to shop, dine, or see a movie.

In all of these cases, in graduates’ personal, workplace, and community lives, blogs proved to be a rich information source. Besides being credible, graduates said they selected blogs that had step-by-step instruction posts and multiple comments from readers. According to some interviewees, blogs could be a niche learning resource tailored to their information problems. This was especially true when other resources, like books or news articles, fell short of meeting their age-specific information needs.

The interactivity of blogs was another driver of readership. The journal-like entries where readers could post and read comments was particularly helpful for solving their information problems, interviewees told us. Blog posts helped them figure out which solutions worked over time and, ultimately, whether or not the methods and solutions being posed were feasible for them.

Further, our readers said they wanted a variety of opinions, guidance, and an option to join a discussion. In time, these multiple voices and a personal tone added to the depth, validity, reliability, credibility, and richness of solutions. Conversations with one or more friends could not usually match the range and depth of expertise provided, according to interviewees.

In this sense, our findings confirm what other researchers have found about why people read blogs: blogs are a unique social space where users learn from one another, whether they actively engage with blogs’ affordances or not (Deng and Yuen, 2011; Pettigrew, et al., 2016).

Moreover, our findings suggest the increased practice of having college and university students write and comment on blogs may have conferred a sense of legitimacy on the blog genre for some recent college graduates. An increase in legitimacy may have implications for the use of blogs as an authoritative source for learning post-college.

Theoretical scaffolding

Within a larger context, the analysis we have presented in this paper was influenced by theoretical frameworks — communities of practice, orality, and cognitive authority. Interestingly, these frameworks and associated concepts all preceded social media, but were no less relevant in informing our conclusions.

The first of these frameworks was the seminal work of the cognitive anthropologists Lave and Wenger (1991) on communities of practice: informal gatherings of practitioners sharing a range of expertise. Lave and Wenger’s (1991) book, Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation, provides insights into how learning may occur within blog-based communities.

One critical element of this framework is the role of the newcomer. The newcomer is an apprentice who engages in legitimate peripheral participation [18]. The act of joining the community, even as an apprentice, constitutes legitimate participation, with learning an inevitable outcome. The relationship, experiences, and exchanges reinforce the quality and extent of the learning that takes place (Fuller, et al., 2005).

In formulating our conclusions, we came to see a blog reader new to a field or practice as an apprentice. In this way, the blogger acts as the journeyman, not necessarily a master of a skill but a practitioner who shows a reader the inner workings of something, according to Lave and Wenger’s framework.

But the communities of practice Lave and Wenger studied shared tacit knowledge, the kind of knowledge that is difficult to articulate, and the members of those communities were co-located. How can such a model apply to an online community whose members are not co-located and who rely on text for communication? We drew on Ong’s explications of orality and literacy (1982) to make sense of this seeming paradox. Ong, a historian and philosopher, argued that writing and print technologies distance the author from his or her communication [19]. The formal, autonomous discourse of print contributes to vast differences between oral and literate cultures. But, while a book cannot be directly challenged and its topics easily discussed with the author, a blog post is different in that the domain of the blog is far more interactive and fluid.

Ironically, the interactive affordances of social media technology seem to cause what Ong called the fundamental orality of language to break through cracks in the technologies of literacy. Accordingly, blog researchers have used terms like “chatter” and “voice-driven” (Nardi, 2004b), “conversing” (Blood, 2000), and ”the unedited voice of a person” (Winer, 2003) to describe the nature of blog writing. These qualities may help explain the genre’s suitability for forming communities of practice.

Lastly, our conclusions about blog readership were influenced by Wilson (1983), a social epistemologist. Wilson claimed that people construct knowledge about the world in two ways: from first-hand experience and from second-hand accounts. Via the latter — learning through others or primary materials, like books, deemed credible and trustworthy — most of us learn about the world.

Many of the blog readers we studied vetted blog content, scouring the entry and the comments posted, especially when looking for guidance. In Wilson’s parlance, these blog readers were seeking cognitive authority. In other words, blog readers were looking for sources they considered, for whatever reasons, “credible, worthy of belief.” [20] Drawing on Wilson’s theory, we would argue that blogs’ utility and interactivity enhance the cognitive authority of the blog form.

Taken together, we concluded that blogs are a unique learning community for many of today’s young graduates. This may be especially true as graduates look for affordable information about the life skills they lack in their first decade after college.

We are not alone in our conclusions about the shifting nature of today’s lifelong learning needs. In a 2014 Atlantic article, John Seely Brown and others wrote that today’s lifetime learners are “looking for not just learning but guidance in navigating the changing world to find the best learning and career opportunities. The growth in life coaching and self-help books, now US$2 billion and US$11 billion industries respectively, is an early signal of this need.” (Hagel, et al., 2015)

Certainly, myriad online sources exist with this kind of shared utility for continued learning and guidance, such as news, social networking, and video sharing sites. Our logistic regression results indicate that respondents who use many, though not all, of these complementary learning sources are also more likely to be blog readers.

In a larger context, our findings suggest popular online venues with snippets of incomplete content, like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube videos, may not be enough. These discrete pieces of information may not give lifelong learners the quality of information they seek. In other words, in the Twitter era, many graduates may also need the longer blog form.

Future research

Like all scholarly research studies, this one is not without its limitations. In this section, we have addressed these limitations and used them as implicit recommendations for future research. One limitation to our research was the operationalization of readership in our survey instrument.

While findings from our follow-up interviews suggest that blog readers were scanning content, the questionnaire did not specify what we specifically meant about the activity of reading blogs. Subsequently, we cannot be certain about how survey respondents themselves defined blog reading.

This intensity of readership raises interesting questions for future research [21]. How can blog readership be measured today? Under what circumstances, if any, are readers reading every word of a blog entry as well as the accompanying comments? Or, are readers selectively choosing to engage in content that fulfills a given learning need?

Ultimately, future research could advance and deepen our understanding of how today’s readers engage with blog content as a source of learning. However, one thing is certain from our research: blogs have endured and will remain important sources of information to young adults.




This study investigated how recent graduates from U.S. colleges and universities used blogs as sources of continued learning during the past 12 months. We studied how — and why — blogs fulfilled young graduates’ learning needs in their personal lives, at work, and in their communities.

A mixed methods approach, consisting of a survey and interviews, was used to collect data from study participants. Results revealed why blogs matter to today’s young graduates at a time when newer social media platforms such as Snapchat, Instagram, and Tumblr have pervaded the social media space.

This study found:

  1. Nearly two-thirds of the sample of recent college graduates surveyed (62 percent) had read a blog in the past 12 months.

  2. More female than male respondents reported having read blogs. Most readers looked for content they could apply in their personal lives, and to a lesser extent, at work or in their communities.

  3. More than anything else, readers turned to blogs because they were affordable sources of continued learning that delivered current and concise information.

  4. Blogs were sources of guidance where graduates lacked expertise and needed skills they had not learned in college.

  5. Graduates who wanted to learn a hobby were almost twice as likely to read a blog than graduates who did not want to learn more about a hobby. Those wanting how-to information and financial guidance were one and half times more likely to read blogs.

Our findings suggest that blog readership is robust at a time when some technology writers have proclaimed that blogs are dead or dying. Respondents in our sample used blogs as a complementary learning sources along with educational videos, news sources, and other social networking sites, like Facebook. Blog readers also relied on co-workers to fill in gaps in their learning.

In this paper, we have concluded that two primary characteristics of the blog form — utility and interactivity — help explain why an older Web form continues to have relevance and use in millennials’ lives today. Moreover, our findings underscore blog’s increasing role as a source of guidance, especially the advice and help many young people said they needed after graduating from college, but found difficult to find.

Perhaps more than anything, our findings have implications for educators and others concerned with lifelong learning. With all the exposition, research, and hype about blogs, their potential for informal learning has not been part of the conversation. Instead, this learning affordance appears to have developed organically as the genre evolved. And blogs, as we found, are but one of a variety of tools, sources, and modalities for informal learning used by young adults in our sample.

When educators claim that they prepare students for lifelong learning, they would do well to envision an expansive and diverse conception of learning activities. Formal training, workshops, and graduate degrees may be accredited forms of adult learning, but they are by no means the most common methods, or even the most effective. As new communication technologies emerge, educators must be open to their unexpected affordances for informal learning.

There may be similarly unexpected benefits to using blogs and blogging in the higher education classroom. If blogs and other social media platforms make communities of practice more visible, then they may have untapped potential for preparing students for professional development after graduation. With greater awareness of this potential, university instructors would be wise to design blogging exercises to model and explore the sharing and evaluating of expertise.

In a larger context, these findings have implications for students, scholars, and researchers interested in how the media ecology develops and evolves. Our findings suggest that blogs are following a similar arc as television and radio [22]. When Twitter and Facebook were introduced, blogs did not disappear. Instead, blogs found a new place in the media ecology and their role expanded to fulfill different information needs.

A new role for blogs, we found, was as an informal learning source. In this capacity, blogs delivered guidance and how-to advice for developing essential life skills. Moreover, graduates looked for blogs that conferred what Wilson called cognitive authority and also served as an information rich source.

While these conclusions underscore the resilience and versatility of the blog form, they require ongoing research and continued examination. This is especially true as newer social media platforms develop while older forms adapt within the media ecology. End of article


About the authors

Alison J. Head, Ph.D., is the Founder and Director of Project Information Literacy (PIL), a Senior Researcher at the metaLAB (at) Harvard University, and a Visiting Research Scholar at Purdue University Libraries.
E-mail: alison [at] projectinfolit [dot] org

Michele Van Hoeck, MLIS, is Dean of the Library at California State University Maritime Academy, and a PIL researcher.
E-mail: MVanHoeck [at] csum [dot] edu

Kirsten Hostetler, MLIS, is Instructor and Outreach Faculty Librarian, Central Oregon Community College, and a PIL researcher.
E-mail: khostetler [at] cocc [dot] edu



This research was generously supported with a National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Several colleagues contributed insightful and useful comments and analyses during the writing of this paper, including Margy MacMillan (Professor, Librarian, and I-SoTL Outreach Associate at Mount Royal University), David Nasatir (PIL Board Member), Erica DeFrain, (Assistant Professor and Social Sciences Librarian at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln) and Lucas Koepke, (Data Analyst in the University of Washington’s iSchool). We are grateful to them all for their generosity and keen insights.



1. See Head, 2014, p. 14.

2. We have drawn on Don Norman’s (1988) The psychology of everyday things for our definition of blog affordances. Norman was the first to apply the concept of affordance to human-computer action and wrote: “... the term affordance refers to the perceived and actual properties of the thing, primarily those fundamental properties that determine just how the thing could possibly be used,” p. 9.

3. Petersen, 2014, pp. 277–278.

4. Jarreau and Porter, 2017, p. 11.

5. Chung and Kim, 2008, p. 301.

6. For purposes of our study, we define three types of learning. Two of these types of lifelong learning — formal and non-formal — take place in schools and the workplace. Formal learning consists of education and training in an institutional context where diplomas or certifications are awarded upon completion. Non-formal learning occurs in lessons, discussions, seminars, either in the workplace or other organizations, but without resulting in certification. In this article, we focus on the use of blogs to support a third type of learning — informal learning — is incidental and self-directed, in which individuals learn independently to advance their knowledge and skills.

7. One exception is Antonia Smith’s (2015) “The farm wife mystery school” that provides a well-sourced essay on women’s urban homesteading blogs. While this article explores the online community of practice formed around a network of blogs focused on learning traditional skills for food production, it does not provide empirical research results, and thus was left out of our literature review for this paper.

8. For background on the ongoing research project, see the Project Information Literacy Web site at http://projectinfolit.org, accessed 10 May 2016.

9. This PIL study was supported with a National Leadership Grant (LG-06-13-0186-13) from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), http://www.imls.gov. A findings report, “Staying smart: How today’s graduates continue to learn once they complete college,” was issued on 5 January 2016 and is available at http://www.projectinfolit.org/uploads/2/7/5/4/27541717/staying_smart_pil_1_5_2016b_fullreport.pdf, accessed 10 May 2016.

10. As part of our two-year grant, we conducted a recent literature review of lifelong learning and participation. See Head, et al., 2015.

11. The survey was administered to graduates from the following 10 U.S. campuses: Belmont University (TN), Ohio State University (OH), Phoenix College (AZ), Trinity University (TX), University of Central Florida (FL), University of Nevada, Las Vegas (NV), University of North Carolina at Charlotte (NC), University of Redlands (CA), University of Texas, Austin (TX), and University of Washington (WA).

12. Previous PIL studies, on the average, have had a response rate of between seven percent and 11 percent when online surveys are administered directly using e-mail addresses of students provided by the Registrar’s Office at each campus. In this study, the alumni office on each campus was the only source of recent graduates’ e-mail addresses. The alumni offices were unable to make the e-mail lists available to PIL and offered to mail the survey link directly from the alumni server.

13. As a point of reference, we calculated this GPA as between a B+ and an A-.

14. The remaining one percent of participants declined to state their employment status. Percentages do not add to 100 percent due to rounding.

15. None of the graduates who participated in our follow-up interviews in this study were the same graduates from the institutions who had participated in our 2014 qualitative study of blogs.

16. For a discussion of response and nonresponse, see American Association for Public Opinion Research, n.d. “Response rates: An overview,” at http://www.aapor.org/Education-Resources/For-Researchers/Poll-Survey-FAQ/Response-Rates-An-Overview.aspx, accessed 22 June 2017.

17. The 2010 study population was college students who had more resources at their disposal (e.g., campus libraries, scholarly databases, and career centers). The 2014 study population comprised relatively recent college graduates, most of whom no longer had access to their campus’ rich information resources.

18. Lave and Wenger, 1991, p. 35.

19. Ong, 1982, p. 42.

20. Wilson, 1983, p. 15.

21. For a seminal discussion of how the “reading brain” develops in online (and off-line) spaces, see M. Wolf (2007), Proust and the squid: The story and science of the reading brain (New York: HarperCollins).

22. For a discussion of how media evolve, see Fidler (1997), Mediamorphosis: Understanding new media, pp. 8–12.



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Editorial history

Received 16 August 2017; accepted 29 August 2017.

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Why blogs endure: A study of recent college graduates and motivations for blog readership
by Alison J. Head, Michele Van Hoeck, and Kirsten Hostetler.
First Monday, Volume 22, Number 10 - 2 October 2017
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v22i110.8065

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