To blog or not to blog, that is the question

Our PI Karin participated in a public lecture in Lancaster last week on the theme of Teaching, Tweeting, and Trolling – Our Online Worlds.  In addition, I had the pleasure of going to Sweden to give talk at Stockholm University’s department of English on behalf of the Academics Writing project. In both of these talks we shared findings on how academics’ writing practices have been affected by technological changes.

We asked our participants if they did any writing on digital platforms such as Twitter, blogs, and Facebook, and found a bit of a trend across the disciplines (bearing in mind that our sample is too small to draw generalisations). Not many of the mathematicians used these platforms, while historians tended to speak rather more positively about them, even if they didn’t actually use them much.

The reasons our participants have given for not engaging with these new genres of writing include a perception that they were trivial or inconsistent with their professional identity. For example, one participant (a statistician) said, “I don’t necessarily approve of Twitter and Facebook so I tend to avoid them”. But these feelings of disapproval were not shared by everyone, and others were keen to use these platforms.

One History professor said, “I lay awake sometime last week thinking maybe I should have a blog. Haven’t got around to it. But the blogs I do read, some of them are terrific.” Another historian expressed similarly positive views: “I am really interested in the idea of blogs and sometime, maybe when I retire, I might get into blogs. I think they are really fun. I don’t do Twitter either. All those modes of communication seem quite interesting.”

The language these historians use speaks of the potential pleasures and creativity of these forms of writing, yet their take-up is constrained by the need to produce other, more privileged genres. This was particularly clear in David’s comment, “A lot of the work is grey literature where people have written blog pieces. I think that’s opened my eyes to what’s possible in that area but yes, if there’s time – I think it’s always a question of time. Again, that work is not valued by the university as far as I can see.” Although he saw potential in these forms of writing, particularly in terms of communicating to audiences beyond the academy, he acknowledged that peer-reviewed, scholarly publications take priority, partly driven by institutional demands to produce REF-able research outputs.

Where do you stand on these hybrid genres? Are they appropriate for academics? Should institutions value them more or would this simply add to already heavy workloads?


How are metrics affecting academics’ writing practices?

Academics are increasingly subject to a range of ‘metrics’, attempts to produce a quantitative measure of the reach and impact of research (and, increasingly, teaching). Research metrics include measures at the level of the individual, such as the h-index (a measure of an individuals’ research output and the extent to which it is cited), at the level of individual papers such as numbers of downloads or numbers of citations, and at the level of journals such as the ISI ‘journal impact factor’, worked out on the basis of citation rates across a journal’s outputs. Newer metrics – ‘altmetrics’ – try, in addition, to capture the wider range of ways in which research publications can have an impact in the virtual world, producing measures based on numbers of views, downloads, saves, shares and recommendations online. All these metrics are becoming increasingly important in recruitment to academic positions, promotion, and of course assessment of academic departments via research assessment exercises such as the REF.

The existence and influence of such metrics has a range of effects on academics’ writing practices. They impact, for instance, on the selection of journals to write for, genres to write in and topics to focus on. Academics are increasingly expected to engage in self-promotional virtual practices including maintaining professional webpages and academic social networking, and these activities can have a direct effect on the newer altmetric quantitative indicators.

The second of four interactive workshops takes place this week, exploring the ways in which quantitative indicators informed by digital technologies are influencing academics’ writing practices.We will report on preliminary findings from the Academics’ Writing project and attendees will have the opportunity to discuss their own experiences of using and being measured via metrics.

Workshop title: Designing the academic self: How are metrics affecting academics’ writing practices at UK universities?

Date: Tuesday 16 Feb 2016, 1.00 – 3.00 pm

Venue: Lancaster University, Charles Carter A15

This series of workshops is run with support from the Northwest Doctoral Training Centre, and is free and open to doctoral students, staff and researchers from Lancaster, Liverpool, and Manchester Universities. Please register your attendance via Eventbrite. For dates and themes of the whole series of workshops, click here.

Designing the Academic Self

Social media, metrics, preprints, websites – much of our academic identity is now tied up in how we mediate ourselves online. So what should we be thinking about and what should we do?

The Academics Writing Project, in conjunction with Lancaster’s Literacy Research Centre and the North West Doctoral Training Centre  is running a series of interactive workshops for PhD students and early career researchers on the use of social media and metrics, called Designing the Academic Self. The workshops are open to doctoral students, staff and researchers from Lancaster and Manchester Universities.

Friday 29 January 2016, 13.00-15.00

Bowland North


Session 1: Who does the Internet think you are?

Sharon McCulloch, Diane Potts, and Tanya Williamson, Lancaster University

Rescheduled from Dec 2015 – please note that this session is on a Friday.

You must register to ensure a place.

Tuesday 16 Feb 2016, 13.00-15.00

Charles Carter


Session 2: How are metrics affecting academics’ writing practices in UK universities?

Sharon McCulloch and Karin Tusting, Lancaster University

You must register to ensure a place.

Tuesday 26 April 2016, 13.00-15.00

Charles Carter


Session 3: What can and can’t metrics tell us?

Masud Khokhar and Sharon McCulloch, Lancaster University

Tuesday 24 May 2016, 13.00-15.00

Charles Carter


Session 4: Metrics through a critical lens


The first workshop, Who does the Internet think you are? is a discussion of if and how emerging academics can be pro-active in creating or ‘designing’ a coherent online presence, including practical matters such as selecting your online name and keywords, as well as the pros and cons of commonly used sites for showcasing academic work. Click here to register for the first workshop.

By the end of the four Designing the academic self sessions, attendees will have a deeper understanding of the underlying mechanisms of metrics and how such tools can extend the audience for one’s work; of evolving academic writing practices in the face of new modes of dissemination and measurement; and of the critical questions such changes are provoking.

The Mediatisation of the Literacy Practices of Academic Knowledge Production

On the 8th of September, I, David, presented a paper, The Mediatisation of the Literacy Practices of Academic Knowledge Production at the 6th International Conference on Language in the Media at the University of Hamburg. This is the first paper from the project which I have presented and the focus of the paper reflected the theme of the conference, Mediatisation. Click on the title Mediatisation of the literacy practices of academic knowledge production Sept 2015 for my slides . I enjoyed presenting the work and people seemed interested in the topic. Many thanks to everyone who attended and especially those of you who asked questions. It was obvious from talking to people afterwards that the topics raised in the paper – about how every aspect of being an academic is being transformed – fitted with people’s experiences around the world.


‘Technobiographies’ as a method of researching digital practices

When did you first use a mouse? Send a text message? Search for something on the Web? Set up a social media profile?

What caused this first usage? Was it mere inquisitiveness? Or did you have to?

Can you remember the first [essay, email, and shopping list] that you wrote? How did you write it? Is it different to how you would do it now? What has changed over time?

The above are just a few of the many questions you could ask yourself (or someone else) as part of a technobiography, one of a number of methods we will adopt in the ‘Academics Writing’ project.

A technobiography is about researching your own practices with digital media, the phases of change over time, in different domains of your life, and how and why your habits of use emerged. Reflecting upon our use of digital media in our past and how we approached technologies can help us understand our use of new media today, and its anticipated future use. The use of technobios as a research method can add new dimensions to ethnographic exploration of digital literacy practices, especially when looking at ‘habits’ as opposed to ‘skills’ and how these are played out over time in people’s lives (Page et al., 2014).

According to Page et al. (2014), this method of researching oneself begins as “a participant-centred way of documenting change over time in social practices, especially as these relate to people’s lived experiences with technology and their language use online” (p. 128). More broadly, technobios can also be a useful component of an ‘autoethnography’. Insights gained from technobios can therefore be used to explore commonalities between different people, identify how digital literacy practices are situated and located in particular times and spaces, and how everyone has an individual profile of literacy practices in their life history (ibid).

In this project, their adoption as one of our research methods is designed to provide insights into how the writing practices of academics have evolved through time in their professional lives, the challenges and opportunities different academics face, and how these have shaped the work of knowledge production.


Page, R., Barton, D., Unger J. W. and Zappavigna, M. (2014). Researching Language and Social Media: A Student Guide. Abington and New York: Routledge

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