Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Writers' Lab: Improving narrative in multidisciplinary projects through blogging

As a starting point for today's post, I've chosen Maria Konnikova's excellent blog post on "Why grad schools should require students to blog".

Previously, we've looked at the benefit of blogging for your scholarly work, and how it can be valuable for every single academic. Moreover, we've discussed the possible reasons for blogging - there are many different paths you can take to blogging as an academic.

Earlier on PhD Talk, we've looked at how academic writing can make us better writers. Maria Konnikova shows us how popular writing can make us better academic writers, and how that can increase your chances for success in graduate school, or in her words:

And partway through another all-nighter (I was working under some tight deadlines), I had an epiphany: thank god I’ve spent the last few years blogging, writing a book, and doing freelance journalism. Otherwise, I’d be lost. Truly.

During that epiphany, she realized there is not much of a difference between on the one hand researching for an article for a magazine, bringing material together from different sources, and on the other hand writing about multidisciplinary research, reconciling two different fields of study and their own vocabulary.

As Konnikova explains how she came to an article that turned out to be a goldmine for her research, it is once more clear that it is not through sheer luck that she stumbled upon this piece, it is because blogging thought her to research widely. By the same token, it strengthens my belief that reading sparks creativity, and that grazing around in the literature, wandering off on undiscovered paths might lead us to unexpected goldmines. In Konnikova's words:
To me, as a blogger, cross-citation is standard practice. I have to do it every day when I research a new blog topic or look at the background for a new piece. It’ s natural to include anything that may potentially be helpful—and to put areas in dialogue even if they don’t normally cross over. I don’t feel compelled to stay within any arbitrary academic boundaries; I just use what seems most, well, useful.

She also proposes the following:
I’d go a step further: incentivize students to blog and to write for a popular audience on topics that go beyond their immediate area of interest. At Columbia, for instance, we can write a grant for one of our comprehensive exams. Why not let a series of published blog posts count as well?

Taking this idea one step further, we could recommend multidisciplinary research groups to write posts on a group blog, and practice writing in a style and language that is accessible for all different backgrounds involved in the project. We could invite groups to learn to speak eachother's language by sharpening their narrative into a common ground.

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