Blog Post

Should I Blog My Dissertation Research?

Let me start with some Obvious Things:

Obvious Thing #1: I'm pretty good at starting and abandoning blogs. Why is that? Well, here's an obvious reason for my obvious fact: writing is hard. I've come to accept that (and embrace it on my best days). This is, of course, coming from someone who likes to write, but who can be intensely critical of her own writing especially when it's - yowza! - public!

When I teach writing, I like to analogize writing with exercise. It's easy to talk yourself out of doing it and even easier to come up with excuses not to do it. When you do it, it is painful, but gradually (graaadually) it becomes something you like to do, even when it's painful. I'm past stage #1: I like writing and I always have. I'm now on stage #2: how do I train myself to become a "marathon writer?" How do I keep myself writing? These are questions more for me than for you, but I'm stating them anyway in the hopes that some (many?) will relate.

Obvious Thing #2: I'm in an industry (i.e. academia) where blogging is becoming an increasingly important part of one's identity. Web presence is not only "a thing," but a big and important, potentially career-defining thing (The Guardian has written about this, Henry Jenkins sees blogging as a good way to connect with a broader public, and some folks from the LSE find that blogging is the best way to communicate ideas that won't make it through the traditionally slow academic publication timeline very quickly). As someone billing herself as a specialist in digital culture and rhetoric in particular, I've got to be extra-super (supextra?) aware of how I present myself online, how often,and what sorts of things I'm writing (i.e. more relevant hot topics in my field, less whining probably?).

Obvious Thing #3: I'm working on a dissertation.

Given these discrete obvious things, I'm at a cross-roads where I must make a choice: should I blog my dissertation progress? I've read a lot about the process at this point, from this open thread on GradHacker to the Remix the Dissertation webinar last week. Because I like lists, I've decided to lay out some more personal pros and cons, based on info gathered and my own personal circumstances:

Pros: 

  • Re: Obvious Thing #2. Here's a way to show people that I know how to do the blog thing! I've got a knack for it! I can write about my work for a "general public!" This is valuable and highly encouraged!
  • It'll keep me reflective and thinking about my writing process the whole way through. The dissertation is a long haul, and there's real value in having an informal space to reflect on ideas that may make their way into a project, but may not.
  • Low stakes. Let's be real: how many people are actually going to read my work-in-progress dissertation blog (to be hosted on a site I've just set up with a free WordPress URL)? Probably my dissertation committee (that's 3), and maybe my boyfriend on a day where he's feeling particularly generous (OK, 4), and my mom will skim it and tell met that I'm smart (So, 5?). This is a good thing. It makes me feel like I'm not revealing to the entire world my trials, pitfalls, and potential mistakes.
  • It'll give me a space to hash out nuggets of ideas that really could turn into potential articles and blog chapters.
  • Choosing which topics to blog about may help me see which ideas for my dissertation are actually useful and interesting. This seems like a potentially silly advantage, but I tend to think that everything is interesting (my co-chair had to tell me to STOP collecting primary texts for my project)... until I actually start writing about it. It's when the metaphorical rubber hits the metaphorical road that I actually can sit back and assess my ideas more clearly.

OK, so Cons: 

  • Re: Obvious Thing #1. I don't want to contribute more blog detritus to the world if I don't write regularly (though this is really my own problem and not necessarily a "con" to the whole venture).
  • There's potential for ideas to be "scooped" by random readers and could potentially jeopardize the ability to distribute ideas in things that people have to actually buy, like journal articles or books.
  • I don't want to look like an idiot?

My pro list looks certainly more compelling than my cons (especially since 3/4 cons are enveloped in personal concerns). But what do you think? Should I blog my dissertation? Why or why not?

I originally published this blog post on my personal blog.

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4 comments

Thanks for your post.  I had similar anxieties about writing a blog while doing my dissertation fieldwork.  I tried to post something once per week (it eventually turned into once per month....) and I am pretty sure my most devoted and regular reader (of a readership of about a dozen people a week, mostly family and friends, plus random hits every so often presumably based on my tags) was my dad.

I wasn't exactly sure why I was writing or who my target audience even was, but the reason I did it and kept with it was to keep a public element of my work and to stay accountable--if not to some imagined audience, then at least to myself.

Now, like you, I'm embarking on the dissertation writing stage.  My decision to discontinue the blog was a pragmatic one -- I thought that blogging would take time and energy away from the more "academic" writing I need to be doing, alongside other obligations, and that it would become a increasinlgy large source of stress and self criticism if I didn't post regularly.  Your post has got me wondering if ceasing the blog posts was actually the most pragmatic choice.

I have to say, blogging during fieldwork got me *writing* and got me to try articulate my ideas more clearly that I would have otherwise.  And even if I had zero readers, the notion that there was an audience out there did hold me more accountable. There really is something to having a *public* blog that focuses one's brain, is generative and liberating (if also terrifying and a burden). 

What about very very short (like 1-2 paragraphs), targeted "progress reports," regular public posts where you could get your writing juices flowing, focus your thoughts around the most important ideas that you're working with at that point in time, be out there for insightful comments from interested strangers, and potentially provide a teaser that would make folks want to read the dissertation when it does come out, but then switching to your private writing medium?

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Thanks for your comment, Tiffany! 

I appreciate knowing that you had a positive experience blogging while doing your fieldwork. I agree that having a public (even if it's a small one and even if you're not sure who exactly it is!) is a valuable way to keep thinking about how to communicate information that can easily get bogged down into jargon territory. Plus, I will say that giving myself small writing deadlines has seemed to be useful and important for me as I keep moving forward on this project.

I like your suggestion too for writing very short posts that just start to get ideas rolling. I agree that the conceptual stuff is going to invite more interesting and useful comments anyway than, say, sharing my data or close reading would. 

Thanks again for the thoughts on this! I appreciate reading about your insight and experience!

 

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Janae, I hear you on this conflict! I have been blogging about educational technology and the digital humanities but I haven't been blogging about my particular academic field and dissertation in a direct way. 

I hear really great things about blogging while dissertating, though -- if nothing else it does reveal how much you have to say about your topic, but I am certainly also leery to be "scooped." I wonder if you may want to keep a private blog that you later make public (once your dissertation is delivered), or perhaps share some details but not all. 

Still, I would not worry about blogging regularly or looking silly, the nice thing about blogs is that they are much less formal and it is just a good way to get ideas out there and to show on the job market how serious you are about digital writing and your dissertation topic. Good luck on whatever you decide :)

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Apologies for my belated response to this, and thanks for the encouragement! :) 

I appreciate the reassurance about the informality of blogging. I sometimes feel like I have to keep my "research identity" and "student identity" really separated, but I see now that the medium of blogging itself allows me a lot of leeway. 

I wonder if there are some good safegaurds against avoiding idea theft? I'm sort of banking on the assumption that so few people will probably look at my blog anyway that there's not much I need to worry about. I'm also thinking I'll keep posts pretty short and limited to brainstorming rather than providing full-on answers or showing all of my results. 

We'll see what happens! I'll try and offer some updates here as I make them. Have you enjoyed keeping up your personal blog at least, Lisa? 

Thanks again for your thoughts!

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