Three reasons why blogging helps research productivity
A few weeks ago I was updating my CV, and was also looking at my blogging activity - it turns out that 2013 was my best year for blogging (in terms of number of posts, and reach), and my best year (ever) for number of published peer-reviewed scientific papers. Coincidence? Perhaps... Function of my career stage? Perhaps... Or, maybe, the two activities are a good marriage, and in some way research productivity is related to blogging activities. I think that might be the case, and here are three reasons to support this hypothesis:
1. Write better, write faster. Blogging helps to hone writing skills. By posting 1-2 times per week, I am writing 1000-2000 more words (put together in a coherent string) per week than I would be without blogging. Blog posts are fun to write, and perhaps more casual in tone, but they still require writing skills that must be continually fine-tuned, and to do this, practice is key. Blogging provides a serious platform for writing. It's serious because a blog post is open to a global audience, so the pressure to avoid mistakes is high. Blogging, therefore, allows me to write more frequently, and makes me a stronger writer. Writing blog posts also helps to develop skills related to faster writing. With practice, writing gets a bit easier, and a bit quicker. If you throw on the pressure of putting together a blog piece in a short window of time, you get more efficient. These skills transfer very well to writing (and editing) scientific papers. Blogging is a perfect practice ring for writing peer-reviewed papers (or, depending on your perspective, peer-reviewed research papers are a good platform to develop writing skills for blogging!)
2. Expanding base of knowledge: I blog about a lot of things that are in my area of interest and experience, but not necessarily within my own direct area of expertise. This is largely because I follow my instinct with stories, and curiosity is often at the root of blog posts, or I simply stumble across something interesting. This demands, however, that I read literature (and websites, other blog posts) in new areas and new disciplines. This leads to a broader knowledge base, and leads to thinking in more interdisciplinary ways. I believe this plays into research productivity in many important ways - I'm less fearful of working in fields at the periphery of my direct area of expertise; I'm not intimidated by new fields, new silos of knowledge, or new literature, methods, or techniques. This leads to new opportunities for research grants, new collaborations and ideas, which in direct and indirect ways, ends up positively influencing research productivity. In short, blogging is a perfect vehicle for acquiring knowledge, thinking synthetically, and embracing interdisciplinary approaches to science.
3. Your community: Blogging is all about a community of people, and about collaboration. Experts comment on blog posts, and I read and comment on other people's blog posts. I ask for help with ideas and problems via twitter, and give help to those who ask. There's a lot of karma in the research world, and if you can positively interact with your broader community through various approaches, whether it's conferences, blogs, twitter, or discussion groups, this tends to have positive feedback loops with your own research. As an example, I've met potential reviewers through social media activities, and I've agreed to review papers for editors with whom I have a relationship with, via blogs or other forms of social media. This creates an atmosphere of collegiality and respect, which in turn allows research papers to receive fair treatment in the review process. The world of publishing is fierce and competitive, and sometimes just getting your paper reviewed (for some journals) is an important hurdle to cross. Developing additional credibility and respect can help with this process, and blogging facilitates this process, and helps expand your professional network. Whether it's totally fair or not, having a large network of colleagues helps with research productivity, including publications. Fundamentally, blogging (and using associated social media tools) can really be thought of as attending a fascinating conference, every day, all day. We all know that conferences are key to success as a researcher, in part because of networking. Blogging can provide many of the same benefits.
In sum, I sometimes hear negative things about blogging, and it's sometimes scoffed at for not being a serious use of a Professor's time. Respectfully, the naysayers are wrong. The two activities are related, and from my perspective, I've become a better researcher because I'm a regular blogger.