We all know that blogs are increasingly important to academic journals, as we recently explored how web-savvy publishers were using social media as a means of attracting and engaging new readers.

But how important is blogging to academic researchers themselves? Do they see writing and distributing their own blog as being additive or subtractive from the process of research and publication that drives scholarly careers?

This is a topic that Carolyn Hank, Assistant Professor at School of Information Studies at McGill University has investigated in depth. She has presented some really fascinating research into how blogging academics view their blog in terms of whether:-

  • They believe their blog represents a contribution to the cumulative scholarly record

  • Blogging has led to positive outcomes for their careers (ie invitations to publish, collaborate or present)

Hank surveyed a total of 294 bloggers active in the fields of History, Law, Economics and Biology, Chemistry and Physics, receiving replies from 153, of which 24 also consented to a detailed, semi-structured phone interview. The results reveal a remarkable degree of optimism as to both the research importance of blogs and their power to affect the careers of their authors.

80% of surveyed bloggers believed that their blogs contributed to the overall scholarly record, with 68% of the same sample stating that their blog posts should be subject to the same level of critical review as their other published works. This suggests that many researchers apply the highest levels of rigour and quality control to their blogging activity.

The sample’s response also suggests that blogging is a big door opener for many researchers. 82% of respondents stated that a blog had let to an invitation to publish research, while 76% had been invited to present research on the back of their blogging activity. And these aren’t the only positive career outcomes for respondents, which included: -

  • >90% agreed that blogging had increased their visibility in their chosen field

  • >80% thought it had improved the creativity of their research

  • 60% thought blogging had improved the quality of their teaching

Where Hank’s research began to get very interesting from an information management point of view, however, was when she asked bloggers if they made any preservation efforts for their blogs. This is an important and under-explored point. If a blog or individual blog post represents a contribution to the cumulative scholarly record, then there are strong arguments that this should be preserved for future reference. But when this material has been essentially self-published by an individual researcher on a personal platform such as a blog (many of which were never built with long-term information management in mind) where does the responsibility for keeping it safe lie?

Hank’s research identified an interesting mismatch in the responsibility for and skills to successfully preserve a blog for the scholarly record. 85% of her respondents said it was an individual blogger’s responsibility to take steps to preserve their blog, whereas only 65% of the same sample believed individual bloggers had the capability to do so.  Levels of actual blog preservation were much lower than even this, with only 46% of respondents taking active steps to protect their blog by regularly backing it up to an archive service or similar.

Other questions that Hank’s research raises are that of the integrity of information made available via blogs, and the rights and access to cite and reproduce it. 96% of respondents said they amended blog posts after publication and 29% deleted posts for reasons of duplication, that they regretted their content or believed them too sensitive/revealing. And while this is common blogging behaviour, is it acceptable research behaviour? Similarly, while no research published via more conventional means would reach an audience without a rights and use statement, the same cannot be said for researchers’ blog. 51% of Hank’s sample made no rights or use statements either at blog or post level: an omission which could leave researchers’ work at risk of plagiarism.

Hank’s full research presentation is embedded above. It’s a fascinating piece of work which asks some important and searching questions as to how social media can be integrated into the scholarly record, given that it is increasingly adopted by researchers as another publication medium.

Ruth Wells is Product Manager, pub2web.