Comparing two publication channels – academic journals and blogs

Henry Jenkins by Tamaleaver CC by 2.0

Henry Jenkins by Tamaleaver CC by 2.0

Journals on shelves

Journals by Bezanson CC by 2.0

 

 

I am going to throw out a few initial ideas about comparing academic journals and blogs as publication channels, as a kick off to a writing project I’ll be doing with Cristina Costa.

Let me start by saying that it is very difficult to generalise about either academic journals or blogs as channels since they are each in a state of flux, changing and interpreted differently  by different users and audiences. This post has been provoked by recent discussion on peer review and journals within my (albeit limited) network.  The issues that interest me are:

  • development of research and writing
  • the role of peer review and editing
  • dissemination of research

Obviously, I will be collaborating with Cristina and we will both improving our review of the literature to find what is already known on the subject.

development of research and writing

Blogs can play a role in the development of academic writing.  An author can try out ideas and get feedback.  I have tried this myself  (but can’t point to the posts as they are sadly lost) on a paper I wrote for Networked Learning 2010.  Also I recall a learning developer who posted successive drafts of an essay on their blog in response to readers’ feedback (would love the link to this if anyone has it). I think the intention of this was to reveal the sometimes messy journey of writing rather than to recommend this as a method of writing.

I see writing as a process with a product that emerges from privacy to publication with more eyes seeing and commenting along the way. A tweet may take only a minute to write but increasingly this text is wraparound/trigger to click a link to another text /multimedia artifact such as a blog post or video created over a much longer period.

There are different styles of blogging and plenty of tips on how to do it and writing for different audiences is very useful for an author’s toolkit.

Writing an article for a scholarly journal is likely to be a much more lengthy process with commenting and revisions emerging from the exchanges between authors, reviewers and editor(s) not all which are ‘public’ in the sense the article itself is.  The process for rejected articles is private with no publication endpoint. Journals with a commitment to the development of their authors will try to ensure that peer review is as much about development as about selection/ rejection.  I am interested in the role that blogging and other social media can play in writing development.

the role of peer review and editing

Journal peer review can be double blind (where neither reviewer nor authors are known to each other – though it is sometimes possible for them to guess each others’ identities); single blind where the reviewers know the authors’ identities but they remain anonymous to authors.  Usually peer review remains a relatively private exchange with comments and responses sent by email.  Different levels and types of openness are possible.  JIME, Journal of Interactive Media Education conducted very interesting dialogic review  and I am interested to research into evaluations of that and similar approaches.  I do know that reviewing can help writers develop, and that editing has had an impact on my reviewing and my writing.

I was also interested in Alan Cann’s experiment with open review but  think that much more work needs to be done to tease out more and less effective methods of using feedback to develop writing. I am not at all convinced by Doug Belshaw’s linkage of transparency to better in relation to peer review (see last sentence).

With blogs, comments are usually (but not always) invited and open, but may be moderated by the blog owner who may choose to reject comments e.g. spam comments.  The blog owner has quite a few powers at his/her discretion moderation, deletion, opening/closing comments. You could say they are their own editor – as they make the decision on publication of post and comments.  Some bloggers (like Seb Schmoller at Fortnightly Mailing ) invite guest contributions that they then edit before publication. So power relations are exercised in both blogs and journals in relation to what is published and how, and in both cases there may be room for more research into how the dimensions of power are operationalised.

dissemination of research

At Research in Learning Technology, we are keen to explore the role of social and other media in disseminating the research articles we publish in our newly Open Access journal.  I have blogged about this here and here .  The joy of Open Access is that every article has a clickable link so we can safely tweet links to articles knowing that all readers can open the article and read some or all of it as they wish. In Actor Network Theory terms, we hope to grow our network of human (readers, authors, etc.) and non-human (articles, web sites, tweets, blog posts, etc.) actants.  And if you wish to read more about ANT you can check this article or this one or this one.

Conclusions

It will be really interesting to see what the literature throws up on journals and blogs as publication channels, and I would also be very grateful for any comments and suggestions that you have to make.  Clearly the openness of processes in writing and publication is worthy of question and shifts in practices should be observed and evaluated to achieve potential benefits of digital publication for readers, authors and others.  Clearly there are cases when openness can help to emancipate but I can’t help but wonder if slavish openness can also have the potential to reinforce existing power differences and may even aid discrimination if not handled carefully.

22 thoughts on “Comparing two publication channels – academic journals and blogs

  1. Hi Frances, thanks for the blog post. I absolutely agree about openness for openness’ sake, but do think you’ve missed something here.

    Blog posts are by their nature ephemeral and contingent. Academic journal articles, as far as I understand them, are supposed to be the opposite of this. There’s problems with blogging – of course there are – but these are out in the open. With academic journals, on the other hand, there’s a supposition that what’s going on behind the scenes if fair, rigorous and (usually) anonymous.

    What I’ve been trying to call attention to recently is that academic journals were created to solve a problem. That problem no longer exists. Instead, perversely, they are now used as a stick with which to beat academics through things such as the REF.

    As I mentioned in a subsequent blog post, I’m absolutely in favour of peer review. I think it’s *so* important that I don’t think that the power relations should remain hidden. Alan Cann’s experiment in open peer review was great in that it showed how transparency has problems as well in terms of your ‘mates’ becoming an echo chamber.

    I haven’t got the solution, but as someone who’s just finished a doctorate and has little interest in being published by journals, I certainly think there’s a crisis of relevance here.

  2. Thanks for your comment Doug. I think that you are overly generalising about academic journals – they may become redundant but Open Access is a chance by which they can become something different and the Elsevier nonsense in the states shows how contested this is. Blog posts may be ephemeral from Google Reader perspective but they are pretty persistent from a search perspective – many bloggers value their personal archive.

    I am really surprised that you have not *got* the point I am trying to make about power relations and openness. Open peer review or open commenting on blogs does NOT make all power relations open – what about the people who feel constrained not to comment because they perceive a status difference between themselves and the blogger? or the selective responding that goes on in comment streams? You can read Lukes article about dimensions of power linked from here
    http://francesbell.wordpress.com/2011/09/06/what-cant-we-say-what-dont-we-say/ We can infer power relations in operation from our personal observation but need good critical qualitative research from rich studies and theory development to find how they play out.

    It’s entirely up to you where you publish but beware generalisation from your own position. As I understand it your thesis was based exclusively on secondary data – already published works, so you did not experience the challenges of collecting and analysing primary data with issues of privacy and ethics and the need to audit the research process in a semi-closed setting before it is published in an ethical and effective manner. My argument is that to understand and improve scholarly publishing, including peer review, we need good primary research as well as argument and theory development. This also applies to new ventures such as http://hypothes.is/ – I will be interested to see if they confine their evaluation data to analytics (though of course, I’ll be interested to see the gender split;) )
    Initiatives like your open thesis, Alan’s Blog publication and hypothes.is are very welcome but crying out for proper evaluation and research.

  3. Thanks Serena – really interesting article – we’ll be using that;)
    Power differences are inevitable and are bound to impact on behaviours – what I find really creepy is when we are supposed to pretend openness fully reveals these differences and their impact.

  4. Pingback: Comparing two publication channels – academic journals and blogs … | Web Tech News

  5. This is really getting interesting.
    I would like to add another couple of ideas to the mix. Once is about style and register; the other about purpose.

    I think blogs and journal can and will co-exist. They offer the opportunity to develop different styles of communication. The register used is consequently very different. In a blog, you develop a rather passionate view about a topic – the blogs that share a very ‘dry’ perspective often in times do not ‘stick’ and soon disappear. A journal article is far more formal, shares a structure that has been implicitly established for that kind of communication genre and is more detailed in communicating the process of research or developing new theoretical directions and concepts.

    Personally, the blog helps me think, as I get access to a distributed, random community that might decide to develop my ideas (or might ignore them – both as a statement and exercise of power!!). The article represents the refinement of that thinking, condensed in a more complex narrative which publishers might decide to publish or not ( both as a statement and exercise of power!!).
    I think there is space for both narratives as they serve different purposes.

    The journal article had a purpose when it was first invented. ‘Philosophical transactions’ was in part launched to try to overcome the silos the Republic of letters and personal networks created. Knowledge was being shared and enhanced within closed circles. Letters, as the conduit of the time, limited communication to 1-2-1 most of the times. The aggregation of the missives in a journal and its printed format allowed for a wider distribution (of power!?). Also, its price was so cheap that even the lay reading community had access to it. There was an attempt to break those intellectual silos. That was the purpose.

    Then the commercial printing came along and got academics to buy into their business…literally!! University’s pay to have access to the work of their staff (That has been VERY dis-empowering). Open access has come to restore the purpose and dignity of making academic knowledge more accessible. And although we are still not fully there, we are heading in that direction.

    the way I see it, blogs serve the purpose (and the ideal) of making the researcher more accessible to the public. They offer a new outlet for thinking and discussion, for engagement and communication which journals fail to provide. They are more colloquial and approachable in tone and style.They are a good platform to fulfil one of the purposes of academia: to inform the public/society.

    Journals display a slight different purpose – they are all about publishing more “condensed” work targeted at an audience that is mainly their research peers. They seek internal impact

    Both display power relations that are not going away because of the medium used. Whether it might be more visible in blogs than in journals, nothing stops others from exercising their power and condition in the same shameless way. The ‘cliques’ of the 17th century are still around!!

    So I am more interested in exploring what each medium can offer me as a researcher than trying to ‘kill’ one in favour of other. I’d rather modernise one and dignify the other one. And that has to do with the purpose and value we bestow to each of them. I want to be able to articulate in both media, and make both valuable to my practice and purpose…

  6. Yes, agree with Christina, especially that I am keen to develop a mechanism to engage all academics in particularly those who don’t see themselves as researchers.

    I suppose blog posts could offer a space for those rejected paper ideas for which the reviewers did not see the merit in academic publication but the author still benefits from sharing practical insights?

    The wider question for me would be – how can we encourage more of our colleagues to start blogging?

    A

    • Aleksej,

      that’s an interesting point. Yet, by phrasing it like that you are hinting at blogging as a second rated platform for dissemination for research. That is not however a perspective I share.

      Blogging presents another form of dissemination and has the potential to create space for true communication (beyond broadcast of info)

      I see blogging as a crucial part of conducting researching, of communicating our ideas and practice, of creating dialog in rather more informal and fluid ways than a journal article is able to provide and achieve. I also see blogging as a form of creating a new ‘image’ of the researcher as an engaged intellectual who takes part in public discourse by using the media of their times.

      Having been working with researchers for more than 5 years – I think we encourage by example. Effective use of blogging comes from within. It works better when people want it than when we offer it to them…because that’s when they come to genuinely seek your support and mentoring. Those have been the most successful cases. Also, let’s just remind ourselves the web has only become mainstream 17 years ago (shows I have been reading Naughton @francesbell ;-) ) and blogging is even more recent. Change is not a linear process and I have witnessed a much greater interest for these new channels of communication is the last year alone than the previous 4 … so things are starting to move…and they are moving faster all the time.

      Talking about incentives… in the future these forms of communication also need to be considered as new ways of creating impact… I think that will play a major role in getting more people involved (if they will do it for a genuine reason then… well, we will have to wait to find out!) ;-)

    • just to complement my thought …
      of course you could see the blog as a space you develop ideas that feed into your papers. I learn by talking to other people and voicing my thoughts. It’s incredible how much I learn about things I didn’t know I knew through the process. I also get to learn a load more through what others share. All of that is knowledge I can ‘distil’ into a paper :-)

  7. @cristincost – thank for the great comment – now the article is half-written

    @aleksej Perhaps we could invite them to do guest posts on our own blogs and/or do what Cristina does with colleagues and have a group blog? then some of them might start their own

  8. Blogs vs journal:
    1. Audience – as well as being a researcher I’m a practitioner of medicine and education and a student. My blog lets me communicate with those audiences. Different people will be interested in different parts of me and therefore different posts. My blog is about me, but a journal is about a subject.
    2. I manage how I am presented on my blog. I also manage the story of a research paper. But in a journal my work will not be so closely linked to who I am.
    3. I would like to be able to publish any research published in a journal also published on my blog.

    Lot more thinking to do on this!

    • Anne these are great points!
      I think Audience could also relate to purpose. The purpose we give to each communication channel. I am also very interested in the topic of connecting theory to practice, of extending one’s research to ‘real’ beneficiaries, and making the benefits tangible. I have been looking at the idea of “public intellectuals” and this is a topic I will suggest for further research. I have visions of me and Frances doing more on this ;-)

      In my mind, management and self-presentation takes us to ‘digital identity’ – maybe too vague a term but one worth exploring. It will be important to investigate McLuhan’s claim: ‘we shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.” I wonder, how in turn our identity is shaped and reified online, especially when the social and professional spheres are combined. That is a significant change from how academics represented their practice before people started to gain access to such communication channels.

      I am also all for to making research open and accessible to different platforms. Some open access journals allow this by giving authors the right to choose the license they want to attribute to their work (so is the case of FirstMonday). I wish all academic publications were open and followed the gold open access route. The green route is not as liberating to say the least!

      Wow – loads to think about it. Thank you so much for sharing this comment :-)

  9. Hello Frances

    I’m working with a group from Change11 MOOC and we are curating a yearly mooc blog calendar. we are seeking your permission to repost this post in our blog. it’s just such an interesting one for our audience. can you email me at liz.renshaw01@gmail.com if you are willing to give your support to our creative project. thnks liz

  10. Thanks for your comments @AnneMarie. I like the point about who and what. How would you like to report your research on your blog ? repost whole article or interpret it?
    @cristina we are getting some great ideas from generous commenters
    @lrenshaw11 – I have made sure the blog now has a CCby3 license so you are free to repost as long as you comply with the licence

  11. Pingback: Comparing two publication channels – academic journals and blogs | One Change a Day

  12. Pingback: Pre reading for 30 May live session posted | First Steps into Learning & Teaching in Higher Education: 21 May – 22 June '12

  13. Dear all – thanks for a great discussion. Marvelous points raised. One thing that I may have missed is the changing nature and “validation” of scholarship. A number of years ago your academic standing or the gravitas of your contribution to the field was determined by your scholarly contributions in books and peer-reviewed journals. Despite advances in “open” scholarship, this is still the dominant discourse with regard to research ratings, etc.

    On the other hand, blogging and Twitter has opened up spaces for a different type of scholarship. On the one hand it is the extreme form of allowing your work to be peer reviewed. On the other hand, it would seem as if our value as “open” scholars are then determined by the number of followers and the number of responses?

    Recently as I applied for promotion, I was told not to list my Twitter activity and my blogging as forms of academic citizenship and scholarship… And it made me wonder…

    • very valuable points, but as you have hinted at these are still early days and therefore open scholarship is a concept that only ‘exists’ in the world of a few scholars. Institutions are way behind the curve regarding this matter. They continue to go by the conventions that have made academia what it *still* is today – an institution with long lasting traditions that seem hard to die.

      And if on one hand we want to keep pushing the boundaries in order to see things changing, on the other hand we need to keep following the norms in order to keep relevant in the institution we aim to transform. It’s a tricky one, isn’t it? As you have experienced yourself all of the things that excite us (all this participation and engagement online) is not necessarily advocated by the people who ‘assess’ scholarship. Policy needs to be updated to accommodate different, alternative forms of scholarship.

      Unfortunately, towards the eyes of the institution, a remarkable scholar is not that one who blogs or tweets about their research, nor even one who has published 5 papers in open access journals so that their knowledge can reach farther and wider; the remarkable scholar is still the one who follows the rules and submits their two papers to 3 or 4 star journals to which their institution might not even be able to subscribe given the recent cuts in budget!

  14. I would value anyone’s comments on a recent experience I had with a peer-reviewed journal. I had posted, on a wordpress blog, a version of a paper under review by them. They disallowed the paper from publication by them because of this. Their criteria for the denial was based on this definition: “Redundant or duplicate publication is publication of data, tables, figures, or any other content that substantially overlaps with other material published previously or to be published in the future.” I did not include any verbiage in the blog piece about submission to the journal.

    I have used the blog to “send” versions of my work to buddies for review and comment prior to submission to peer-reviewed journals. I didn’t consider it publication per se. My institution has no policy regarding personal blogs as long as they don’t violate HIPAA (I’m an academic neurologist). So, simply, is a wordpress blog, with no advertising, no active dissemination, no intent to violate an embargo, a criteria for denial of a previously accepted piece?

  15. This is a really interesting point Norm. There are no universal laws for the reuse of ones own material though published materials may be subject to copyright and/ or licensing restriictions.
    The journal should work within its own guidelines and so it might be worth checking those out. Interestingly, I would imagine that many bloggers would like to claim their posts as ‘publications’. The issues for peer-reviewed journals would be around originality and compliance with copyright/ licensing. Could I ask if the journal was Open Access and what its copyright arrangements are?

    • Francesl thanks for the question. The journal has an Open Access option (after remuneration, the article is available at time of publication). Here is the verbiage:

      Redundant or duplicate publication is publication of data, tables, figures, or any other content that substantially overlaps with other material published previously or to be published in the future. This includes work published by others or any author of the manuscript submitted to XXXXX. When submitting a paper, the author should make a full statement to the Editor-in-Chief in the cover letter about all submissions and previous reports (in any language) that might be regarded as redundant or duplicate publication of the same or very similar work. The author should alert the Editor-in-Chief if the work includes subjects about which a previous report has been published or about a manuscript that is under review by, submitted to, in press at, or to be submitted to or published in the future by another journal. Any such work should be referred to and referenced in the new paper and a copy of the material should be included with the submission. Abstracts presented at scientific meetings (with no press releases and not discussed in detail at a symposium) and data provided as required to clinical trial registries are not considered pre-published material.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s