29 March 2014

Reflective Blogging

The internet is a fast, noisy realm. To be heard is a challenge when so many online publications compete for attention--and these distractions multiply every second. Blogging provides the platform for a voice. Consistent blogging demands that writers keep up and learn either to cope with mistakes, never to err, or to revisit previous texts if accuracy is an issue.

All writing compromises between an idea’s perfect expression and what ends up recorded on the page with the words that do not stick to the tip of one’s tongue. In legal writing, accuracy is important. Legal blogging fuses both these issues and presents a choice: (i) post often to be heard; or (ii) post only when a text is finished and accurate, but risk never posting at all. In this post I discuss this potentially crippling problem with regard to Patrick Dunleavy’s Authoring a PhD: How to plan, draft, write and finish a doctoral thesis or dissertation.

1. The Problem with Blogging

”[P]roducing an integrated professional text is a multi-stage process, and (…) a lot will change as you progress raw text towards an effective finished form” (p 156 Dunleavy).
Implicit in this quote is the need for pauses between research, drafting, and a text’s final presentation. Dunleavy is explicit, too:
“Authoring does not just involve producing a first draft. It is just as much about how you reflect on what you have done, try out the arguments on other people, replan your text in the light of comments, and implement revisions” (p 135 Dunleavy).
The online world’s rapidity, however, does not provide the time for this reflection and discussion. Blogged text, written to conform with the internet’s pace, may be inferior to more careful writing. If true, academics may have little incentive to blog--why produce work that is innately poor quality?

2. The Benefits in Blogging

There is an alternative inference that should encourage academics and students to blog: in a wider academic (writing) role, blogging may equate to, substitute, or add to the reflecting, discussing, and revising Dunleavy promotes. Blogging might therefore be a fundamental learning tool and standard-setting mechanism for academics.

Blogging influences my productivity. The constant challenge motivates me to write more ‘finished’ pieces and capsules of research than I would bother with in private: if nobody reads my notes, they need not be neat. Mistakes, too, are acceptable in private writing--so long as they are rectified if ever included in public work. Polishing these messy records clarifies thought and provides an opportunity to develop ideas and test wilder inferences and conclusions.

With these advantages in mind, I am tempted to affirm the second interpretation (above): blogging is more valuable than not blogging. Moreover, in the online collegiate atmosphere generated by blogging, academics may find blogs are often read and understood as experimental rather than concrete, which encourages users to comment helpfully rather than scornfully. Thus blogged-text’s disadvantages (the reduced ability in a rapid forum to censor and correct) are directly engaged and resolved by blogging’s other elements (readers' abilities to comment). These latter features include worldwide input, thereby widening an academic’s audience, and the latent scope of expertise in any audience. Blogging, therefore, is better considered as a step in the academic process rather than a competing, undermining process.

3. Inadvertent Advantages

In my personal scheme, by taking a recess, I managed to reflect on, discuss, and revise my thoughts on enquiry-based learning. I hope my time away fruitfully results in a better quality series about this learning, and about pedagogy more generally. That series constitutes the substantive content of my next few posts. Exactly how many posts on pedagogy will follow this one is indeterminate--it depends how many times I divide my essay on education. In the very next post, I hover again on the ideas expressed above, further to consider blogging’s affect on productivity.

Created: 24 July 2014. Version 1.0.

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