April 8, 2010

Blogging is Thinking

About ten months ago, I began writing this blog. I was embarking on a fourteen month trip with my family to conduct research with deportees in four countries. I wanted to record the experience, at least for us, our friends, and our family.

When I began, I was not sure whether or not I would have something interesting or useful to say on a regular basis. But, I figured I would give it a shot and hope that my blog would not join the ranks of most blogs – which feature a few posts and then disappear from existence.

As a person who has to write as part of my job, you might think that writing a blog would interfere with my “real” work – writing academic articles and books. To the contrary, it has invigorated it and made my other writing easier. There are two principal reasons for this. The first is that writing a blog allows me to practice my writing, and thus to improve it. The second reason is that writing is thinking, and the more I write (and thus think) about my work – the more academic writing I can produce.

My blog has a very modest audience. Even still, it has a much larger audience than my academic writing. And, the production time is much shorter – I write, I click “post,” and it is online. When I write a journal article, I write, I revise, I submit, I revise, and even once it is accepted it takes several months or years for it to appear in print. For me, the instantaneous nature of online publishing provides an additional incentive to write and to share my ideas.

According to popular wisdom about blogging, blogs should have a clear purpose and an audience in mind. My blog is a failure in this sense. It is a combination travel blog, political blog and academic blog. I write about traveling to four countries with three kids, about the sights we see, about my research, and include the occasional advice column for new and aspiring academics. For me, however, this works out well, as I can write about just about anything and put it in my blog. This gives my writing purpose and inspires me to do more.

Writing, like most skills, improves with practice. Writing blog posts three to five times a week, has giving me quite a bit of practice with writing, and my writing skills have improved. Writing is also a habit. Writing every morning on a consistent basis has turned writing into a regular habit for me, and I write every day. Since I blog – and thus write – on a regular basis, my writing gets better with practice.

The second reason that blogging helps my academic writing is because writing is thinking. In my blog, when I write about my research, I think through my findings and theoretical approach and am able to solve puzzles that emerge. I also write about my methods, which allows me to think of ways to improve it.

For example, one of the greatest challenges in my research project this year has been to find deportees to interview. I have written about the challenges of this a couple of times. This has allowed me to think of new strategies to find deportees to interview, and to remind myself that I need to continue to think of new ways to find deportees.

I also write about emerging findings in my research, which allows me to think about them, keep track of them, and to ensure that they are integrated into my ongoing research. For example, in my research with deportees in Goiás, Brazil, I have been trying to figure out why Goiás is such an important sending region for Brazilian migrants. Writing about this, thinking about this, and receiving feedback and tips from colleagues in a virtual forum has given rise to new ideas about migration patterns.

Of course, I could accomplish all of this by simply writing a journal and keeping track of my thoughts. I did that with fieldnotes when I was conducting my dissertation research. However, I have found that the blog format – which allows me to share ideas, post photos, and discuss my findings with others – has worked better for me.

For me, it turns out, blogging is thinking.

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