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Blog or be damned?

By James McConvill - posted Friday, 24 March 2006

Within the next 12 months, every Australian academic should be blogging on a regular basis, otherwise they should seriously consider their future in academia.

Is this a crazy proposition? No.

It is probably still the case that, at least in Australia, blogging is considered a distraction from true scholarship rather than an exciting addition to scholarship. This was the case also in the United States, but the attitude is rapidly changing.


Indeed, earlier this year the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) held a conference devoted to exploring the issues and potential of blogging by law academics. Another conference will be held at Harvard Law School in April this year. A recent study found that 182 US law professors had dedicated blogs.

In Australia, most academics are happy to pump out their one or two journal articles a year and the occasional book. Academics cannot be criticised for this, as it is what is expected of them - just as workers in the Cadbury factory are expected to pump out the Freddos and family-size blocks.

But surely it is time to open up this traditional approach to examination. Surely things can be done better.

It could be said that there is a touch of arrogance in how scholarship is defined in academia. The majority of academics still consider great tomes and heavily footnoted journal articles, accessible only to the initiated, to be the only way that academics can possibly devote themselves while maintaining credibility.

These books and articles are such a great contribution to their particular profession and the community, it is argued, that there is no time for anything else. The manner in which universities are funded, and academics promoted, certainly provides some justification for academics maintaining this view.

But it is time to get real. Yes, books and articles are of some service and it is a credit to academics to complete a book or write an article which is accepted by a reputable journal, but we cannot any longer discount the value of blogging.


Blogging is not a distraction from scholarship - instead it should be recognised as being one of the most effective mechanisms for scholarship. As University of Illinois law Professor Larry Ribstein recently commented on his blog, Ideoblog, “a blog that focuses on ideas can be no distraction at all, but rather part of what scholarship ought to be - the pursuit of knowledge”.

Blogging requires academics to sharpen up their writing skills - what is expressed in 10,000 words in a journal article, must be expressed in a maximum of 1,000 words in a blog post. This is do-able. If a novel idea cannot be expressed concisely in a blog post, I believe there is something wrong with an academic’s writing skills. Blogging will help improve these skills.

Blogging also allows for ideas to be circulated immediately. Having to wait months or even years for an article to be published in a journal takes the buzz out of jumping upon an emerging issue, and therefore probably deters many academics from having a go. Academics can also get instant feedback on their ideas through readers posting comments on the blog site.

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About the Author

James McConvill is a Melbourne lawyer. The opinions expressed are his personal views only, and were written in the
spirit of academic freedom when James was employed as a university lecturer.

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