2.9 Online Writing and Academic Writing
Nancy Ami; Natalie Boldt; Sara Humphreys; Jemma Llewellyn; and Erin Kelly
As the world of digital media evolves, so too does the world of digital academic scholarship. Today, academics are sharing their work in the form of blogs and online forums like Twitter. These types of platforms are making it increasingly easy for scholars from different disciplines to interact. Psychologists can read and respond to philosophers; biologists can correspond with sociologists; and so on.
Sharing knowledge also means that scholars don’t need to start from scratch and make unnecessary mistakes. Rather, they can share the research and build on the work of their colleagues in both their own and different disciplines (in other words, two – or more! – heads are better than one). As you write and research, it’s good to remember that you can bring concepts and terms from other disciplines to bear on your own research. Likewise, you too can add your voice to the dynamic conversations taking place online.
Forums are online discussions similar to class discussions. Course instructors assign forum posts (sometimes called discussion posts) to encourage students to engage with course content, respond to and question key issues, and thoughtfully engage with others. Tips on writing forums are included in this helpful resource at the University of Waterloo. But we’d like to weigh in with our own advice:
- Begin by considering course content, selecting a topic, and making a claim.
- Start new threads in the discussion instead of responding to lengthy chains.
- Consider evidence for support: What have you learned from course readings, scholarly sources, and social media?
- What personal experiences might you share to support your view?
- When creating a title, think “newspaper headline.” Write your title choosing phrases that clearly represent the key point of your post.
- Write one or two paragraphs, using an engaging style with short, concise sentences and clear vocabulary.
Your instructor may provide a prompt or question or may require a particular structure. Some course instructors ask students to summarize a scholarly article in their first paragraph and then respond in their following paragraphs.
Participating in a forum involves responding to others. When reading others’ posts, look for opportunities to affirm content shared, ask questions, build on ideas, and disagree. Start with a reference to the original post; then, offer a quote or summarize the key point and respond. If you agree, offer reasons for supporting the writer’s main idea. While you may feel uncomfortable disagreeing with a writer, presenting a different opinion in a constructive, polite manner can strengthen the discussion. If you find yourself reacting emotionally to a post, draft your response and wait before posting. Taking a brief time away will help you respond in a calm, professional manner. JWU’s Kellie Nappa offers additional tips for online discussions.
While participating in forums can be daunting at the beginning, with some practice, you will enhance your writing skills and learn much in the process.
You may already be familiar with the concept of blogs. Numerous internet users, including celebrities, use this form of digital media to share their interests and represent their thoughts on political issues, for example LGBTQ2S+ rights. However, you may be asked to disseminate your research ideas and opinions through a blog as a course requirement. Additionally, the academic blog helps you connect with other academics in your field, either by reading their blogs or creating your own. The Guardian newspaper offers insight into the research behind academic blogging and its purpose: to bridge the gap between academia and the mainstream.
Academics can get to print early, share ideas which are still being cooked and stake a claim in part of a conversation without waiting to appear in print. On blogs we can offer commentary on the work of others in a more relaxed – or opinionated – way than we might do in conventional journals, where we will be subjected to the normalising gaze of peer reviewers.
So how can you structure your academic blog? What is important to include? Who is the target audience? What do you want to achieve by writing an academic blog? The Nesbitt-Johnston Writing Center has a great resource for what you need to consider when writing an academic blog. We decided to share the neatly condensed checklist for blog writing by our colleagues at Dawson College:
- A blog is a short piece of writing about a specific topic.
- It includes relevant links and information to other places you can read about your topic online.
- A blog includes images or videos related to the topic that can draw readers in.
- Illustrations of complex ideas can help readers understand the topic.
- Interactivity is a must as you can receive feedback or begin a discussion with your readers about your ideas.
- Essentially, you are putting forward an argument, from a piece of your academic writing, about a topic that is supported by scholarly evidence and logical reasoning.
If you are looking to start building your academic profile, testing your writing or documenting your writing experiences, the University of Victoria’s Online Academic Community is a good place to begin. While only University of Victoria students can use the Online Academic Community, your school very likely has blog platforms you can use. You can see what other students attending the university are researching and writing about or find an opportunity to build a wider community of study groups. Some students even use blogging (and e-portfolio) platforms to build their portfolio of work, including a CV, writing sample and, if in Fine Arts, documentation of their creative work.
- “Online Discussions: Tips for Students,” Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo, accessed June 29, 2020, https://uwaterloo.ca/centre-for-teaching-excellence/teaching-resources/teaching-tips/developing-assignments/blended-learning/online-discussions-tips-students. ↵
- Kellie Nappa, “How to Write a Strong Discussion Post,” Johnson and Wales University Online, May 23, 2018, https://online.jwu.edu/blog/how-write-strong-discussion-post-infographic. ↵
- Monica Roberts, “TransGiot Texas Democratice Party Runoff Endorsement Post,” TransGriot (blog) June 28, 2020, https://transgriot.blogspot.com/2020/06/transgriot-texas-runoff-endorsement-post.html. ↵
- Pat Thomson and Inger Mewburn, “Why Do Academics Blog? It’s Not For Public Outreach, Research Shows,” The Guardian, December 2, 2013, https://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2013/dec/02/why-do-academics-blog-research. ↵
- “Writing Academic Blogs,” Nesbitt-Johnston Writing Center, Hamilton College, accessed June 29, 2020, https://www.hamilton.edu/academics/centers/writing/writing-resources/writing-academic-blogs. ↵
- “How to Write an Academic Blog Post,” Humanities Department, Dawson College, accessed June 29, 2020, https://www.dawsoncollege.qc.ca/humanities/2019/11/05/howto/. ↵
- https://onlineacademiccommunity.uvic.ca. ↵