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Polished academic blogging on the EUROPP blog

We have no editorial ‘line’ except a commitment to communicating social science research and commentary in ways that enhance public debate and understanding.” (About, LSE EUROPP blog)

Yesterday, a blog post of mine was published on the LSE EUROPP blog. I had proposed the title “On the State of EU Blogging” – a bit bold but short enough to fit well on Twitter and to catch some attention.

In the end it was published with the title “Blogs on European affairs are written by insiders. There is a need for these EU specialists and academics to bring their debates to the digital public.” For anyone reading blogs, this kind of two-sentence title looks quite bizarre, but why not.

Beyond the edited title, my blog post had received a short introduction, like the title written by the editors of the EUROPP blog. Having seen previous blog posts on the EUROPP blog I expected this and it is fine for me as the way it is written indicates that it was not formulated by me. Then, the short bio at the end of the post was changed compared to the text I had proposed. That is fine in principle, but maybe I had my reasons to write it the way I did.

Most importantly however, some parts of the text had been edited. While some of the edits “only” concerned formulations or changes in style, one edit stroke me the most. In the draft that I had submitted, I had written:

“Making any remarks on the state of EU blogging is thus quite subjective – which is why I am writing this on a blog, not in a refereed journal, I suppose.

In the version published on the EUROPP-Blog, the half-sentence in bold had been erased. Now I can only speculate about the reason for this particular edit – probably, making ironical statements that contrast the fine world of refereed journals with the wilderness of the digital sphere is dangerous and could bring down academia.

In fact, I had made this little statement to underline that, as an academic, it would be quite difficult to even discuss an unstudied topic like “The EU blogosphere” on an academic conference or in a refereed journal given the well-established rules of the academic game. A blog however is indeed a place where one can start developing a more personal perspective on a subject that one may know beyond everyday knowledge. Starting with a general statement, making some initial research to prove your point and publish something on the subject and discuss them with a specialist or generalist public even before these thoughts will have reached a state where they could stand the critical eyes of journal referees is the great possibility of academic blogging.

Editing out my reference to these possibilities shows a misunderstanding of the way academic blogging should function. For me, a blog post also needs space for provocation, little inconsistencies, mistakes. This is what sparks debate, this is what makes blogging interesting and this is what differentiates it from other types of publishing. Realising that your blog post is read by editors who may even make changes to your core text or your title before publishing what you wrote is quite confusing for someone who is used to blog for a while.

I would hope the editors of the EUROPP blog would have confidence in the ability of their contributors to write their own texts and to publish them unedited as far as they do not contain legally problematic content. This would enrich the world of academic writing, instead of polishing it back from where it has come.



4 Responses to Polished academic blogging on the EUROPP blog

  1. avatar Chris Gilson says:

    Hi Ronny,

    I think you raise some important points about the academic blogosphere and what we’re trying to achieve with EUROPP. One reason why we ‘polish’ our blog articles is because many academics are not used to writing for blogs, and thus we have to make changes to the narrative and length so that they are more easily read and intelligible. We favour more narrative titles and introductions so that those who read our articles are able to quickly understand the key messages of an article – we will then adapt and/or shorten titles and take quotes from articles for our tweets to promote the article. To keep things fair, we review and edit every contribution, no matter who the author is.

    We’re always happy to review our edits if authors would like us to, and to edit articles once they are posted.

    Best,

    Chris

    Chris Gilson
    Managing Editor
    EUROPP – European Politics and Policy Blog
    LSE Public Policy Group
    http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/

  2. avatar Patrick Dunleavy says:

    Thanks a lot Ron for writing such a detailed account of your experience in blogging with EUROPP – European Politics and Policy. The post you wrote for us is a great piece, and nearly 250 people have downloaded and viewed it already (at http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2012/03/13/eu-blogospher/).
    The central mission of our blog is to advance public understanding of the social sciences, and to deliver on that we try to bring together a huge variety of academics from LSE and other European universities, along with political practitioners, NGOs, think tanks and other bodies contributing to public debates on European issues. So this is not a single-author blog, where one person is letting it all hang out, doing things in their own unique style. It is instead a multi-author blog, collective endeavour, both of the authors and of the blog team.
    One of the things where the blog team tries to add value is by achieving a little more consistency in language and approach than we might get if we just loosely curated lots of single-author blog posts. We want to get things explained as clearly as feasible, because we are about enhancing public understandings (not misunderstandings). That’s also why we use narrative titles and why we write an introductory paragraph explaining the core message of each blog – a style we use both on EUROPP and on two other popular blogs that we run other covering British Politics and Policy (at http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/) and the Impacts of the Social Sciences (at http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/)
    This is a style preference on our part, a concern to give a little bit more design, integration and concern for excellence in communications to academic blogs than they have maybe had in the past. If you have a real strong aversion to this, then run your own blog (as you do) and plough your own furrow. But don’t let’s be too precious and say ‘My way or no way’.
    In general the professional communication of the social sciences to the public at large has been pretty dreadful in the past. We all need to get better at doing this, and there’s room for a great range of approaches and innovations in how we all realize this collective good.

  3. avatar Ronny Patz says:

    @ Chris

    We’re always happy to review our edits if authors would like us to, and to edit articles once they are posted.

    I’d say that re-editing a blog post once it has been published is not a good solution. Edits in blog posts that are not just corrections in spelling should always be clearly indicated, as it is accepted convention in online publishing. If you have to edit blog post after they are published, it usually makes them less polished, which would go against your intention.

    @ Patrick

    Thanks for your extensive reaction. In principle I understand your intention, and I do not mind that you have your own editing policy for the EUROPP blog, but I do however disagree with some of your premises and methods.

    Let’s start with the titles: I don’t know any publication, offline or online, that uses the type of titles you are using on the EUROPP blog. No newspaper, no book, no academic journal article, no blog post I know has titles that are composed of two sentences. Two sentences are not a title but a short summary. And you have your short summary that you include with each blog post, so no need to have second summary.

    Writing online, you need to be able to re-use titles online, e.g. on Facebook or on Twitter, and in the way your have chosen to frame your titles, they are quite difficult to re-use for the purpose that a title of an online article should have: It should quickly catch the eye, get people interested and then you should be able to copy-paste it to Twitter and Facebook, to post and retweet it to the rest of the world quickly. A relevant share of readers on blogs come through Twitter and/or Facebook today, and if one wants to reach out to the digital world, one better follows the dynamics of the these platforms.

    With regard to the editing: I don’t mind that you try to develop an easy-to-understand style, with a more unified language. I even do not mind that you edit, although I believe it goes against the idea that most would associate with blogging (even on multi-author blogs). But if you edit, you should tell your authors and your readers that you do in fact edit articles that are submitted. This is not a common method, and when you go as far as editing out substantive parts (like the half-sentence you deleted) or when you edit language in a way that it distorts meaning (as it was done in the very first version of the blog post that I asked one of your colleagues to correct right away), you are also impacting on how the author is seen. Because the author on a blog will seen through his text, so if the text is not her or his alone, the perception of the author can change.

    My point therefore is not to say: My way and no other way. My point is: If you have a way, then make it transparent, tell your authors and your readers about it. That’s totally fine, and if you get an audience on an edited blog, it proves that you cannot be totally wrong. Yet, I definitely wasn’t told, and I still don’t understand why it was necessary to cut out that half sentence.

    And one final point that I think I wanted to make:

    The best and most read blog posts on the web are usually not the ones that are perfect, but the ones that have been written with a personal style in an inspired way, sometimes scribbled down in 10-15 minutes. These blog posts, even if they are not perfect, explain more and make complicated questions more accessible to a wider audience than anything that these texts would have become if they had been re-framed or edited afterwards. I am therefore not sure that your approach – and I do not mean adding a short introduction at the beginning but editing within the text – will actually make your blog better. I think academics need to learn to be more spontaneous, more outgoing in the way they publish, rather ready to answer questions in the comments than to explain everything in the text. Editing can take away some of this spontaneity and get push the writing styles much stronger to traditional publishing than a blog can be.

    But as you rightly said, this is not about the one and only way, it’s just the personal experience I have made in my years of blogging. And it is also no major issue – I just thought it was worth having this debate because also we in the academic community need to find our (new) way in the digital sphere – and we will only get there if we have these discussions.

  4. avatar kosmopolit says:

    I would mostly agree with Ronny here. I never liked the LSE narrative titles and I think they don’t work at all – and they often don’t even reflect the piece in question. I guess there is a reason why nobody else is doing it. Good points regarding twitter and facebook were already raised, I might add that titles are part of blogging (as they are part of journalism) and can be used in many creative ways. Titles are part of writing – and thinking about a good title is sometimes what sparks an idea for an article. I think academics would also enjoy thinking about headlines, just look into any academic journals or browse through conference programmes and you know what I mean…

    On the editing process: I can understand the intention and the idea of the editing process (I am an editor myself). However, there is always a balance to be made between personal style, quality, institutional requirements and own preferences. The least you can do is to get approval for the edit from the author, In fact editing is a process that involves both, the editor and the author. Editing blog posts is an even more problematic area (I also do that every day…) as blog posts are often meant to be personal and unfinished. I don’t want to discuss a certain editorial choice but editing a blog post is different from editing an article for an online magazine – and it seems to me that “LSE blogs” are in fact the latter.

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