Friday, April 18, 2008

Should you write a paper or create an ad hoc blog?

I just gave a presentation on computer literacy courses at a conference. People typically write papers for publication in a conference proceedings, but I decided a companion blog would be more useful.

Creating an ad hoc blog for a project, event, or, in my case, a conference presentation, takes only a few minutes, but providing the content is somewhat more time consuming than writing a paper for publication.

My ad hoc blog ended up with 2,964 words in 9 posts. Writing it took longer than writing a paper of the same length with 9 sub-headings because of the inclusion of 76 links to references and enrichment material. Some of those 76 links would have been references in a traditional paper, but I would have left most of the enrichment material out. Since I was writing for a blog, and knew the reader could easily skip a link or follow it, I left them in. Adding the links is mechanical, but discovering and reading the enrichment material was time consuming. It also meant I learned more.

The division of the blog into 9 separate posts, each of which stands alone, allows the reader to focus only on portions of interest. Category tags and full-text search also help the reader focus and make sub-sections more discoverable.

Reading a blog is different than reading a paper. The author does not specify a reading sequence, and transitions between sections (posts) are not explicit. These drawbacks could be overcome by knitting the blog posts together into a linear paper or by preparing an overview post -- an extended abstract with links to the individual posts. Writing a traditional paper or an overview post would be relatively simple once the blog was complete, but it would still take time. (I will do both when I find time).

An electronic publication like an ad hoc blog is also mutable, whereas a conference proceedings is fixed once it is published. For example, I revised the Internet Writing post twice after publishing it. The blog also allows for comments and other feedback. Of course, an online conference proceedings can also be changed and feedback can be solicited.

The blog might also continue to grow. The first nine posts of the computer literacy blog were related to my presentation, but the tenth summarized a related presentation I heard at the conference. Some ad hoc blogs may continue after the event.

A final consideration is academic credit. Even if a blog is more effective than a paper, an academic writer may be reluctant to go that route due to publication pressure. The traditional notion of academic publication is out of date.

You often write term papers for classes. Would creating an ad hoc blog be preferable? Why or why not?