I’ve finally returned from marking hell with some (hopefully) interesting things to blog about. As my other major task over the holidays was to write a paper for a conference I’m speaking at next week (and I see other conferences on the horizon), and blog posts and conference papers are two of my favourite things to write, I thought it would be fun to write a post comparing them.
**They can both be fairly easy to ‘knock out’. **It takes me AGES to do a formal piece of academic writing. I’ll be putting my research into words for the first time, and I have to get across all the things I want to say in the right way, and sometimes it’ll be the first time I’m using particular sources, so I have to type out full references (yes, I’m too old-fashioned to use this newfangled referencing software. And dammit, I like the control). My conference papers tend to be things I’ve already written about, so the material is there, it just needs to be put into a different format. Sometimes I’ll blog about new research, but while I always reference in blogs, I know it’s not going to be judged in the same way as, for example, a board paper, and make it clear that my findings are preliminary. And I don’t remember anyone apart from myself pulling me up for careless typos on my blog. Blogs are fast. Academic writing is slow.
**You don’t need to use massively formal language in either. **Blogs especially are a good place to express your own ‘voice’ outside the formal, starched language of academia. I use colloquialisms and give my opinions on my blog. With conference papers, you do have to use a reasonable standard of language, but at the same time you don’t want to alienate your audience by sounding like a particularly posh robot. I use contractions as they’re part of normal speech, and throw in the occasional aside to keep things human and friendly.
**Conference papers require more editing. **It’s pretty damn hard to write a conference paper that’s exactly the right length right away. The one I’ve recently written started out way too long as I was giving far too much information about something a bit too far from the point of the paper, so a lot of that had to go. Also, because I’d written parts of it on different days, there were repetitions that needed removing. In my initial run-throughs I was constantly asking myself, ‘do the audience need to know this?’ ‘is this boring?’ and ‘are there enough breaks in this sentence so I don’t run out of breath?’. I’m extremely unlikely to need to read a blog post out loud, there’s no performance to judge, so I just need to give it a quick proofread and it’s good to go.I might not even look at a blog post again once it’s done, whereas I try to finish writing a paper way ahead of time so I can practice it to death. I will see all of that paper’s flaws.
**Conference papers get more feedback, but blog posts are more permanent. **Unless, of course, they make your conference talk into a podcast, though that’s no guarantee that people will actually listen to it. People at conferences, by virtue of being there in person and having a Q&A session, are more obliged to think of things to say to you about your research, whereas often people just look at my blog posts for a couple of minutes - I know they’re there, but they don’t say anything! However, generally, once a conference is done, it’s done - other conferences and papers come along, you make improvements, previous conferences become a hazy memory. Blog posts are a bit more permanent. Some of my blog posts don’t have a lasting readership. Others, I notice, still attract readers as new people discover my blog and take their pick of old posts that take their fancy.
Wish me luck with my paper!