Internet Trends and Scholarly Publishing
There is no doubt that the internet trends of recent decades have had and continue to have a powerful influence on scholarly publishing. Increased accessibility to the articles published in academic and scientific journals, particularly when they are open access, has in itself broadened and altered the readership of scholarly writing. Yet journal articles are only a small part of the phenomenon, with the dissemination of research and presentation of resources via a myriad of online venues rendering even the most exclusive information – the kind tucked away in special collections and museums where they were once visible only to the eyes of selected specialists – available to virtually anyone at the click of a mouse. Even more striking as a trend is the fact that scholars who ten years ago would never have imagined making the time amidst chaotically busy schedules to write posts and blogs are doing so not only for their own websites, but also as guest bloggers on a variety of other sites.
Writing for online venues tends to require approaches that differ significantly from traditional scholarly writing. For one, each document is usually much shorter than a conventional scholarly paper might be, so mastering the short form is essential for would-be internet authors. Readers, no doubt at least partially influenced by years of familiarity with online reading material, tend to be less patient. Many want to be captivated at once, very much in the style of fiction, but the suspense usually associated with fiction often does not apply to blogs and other web articles. Instead, readers want the answers quickly, and if there is little of substance or fascination in your opening lines, some readers will click away to something more engaging. For these reasons, online pieces tend to be front-loaded, which is to say that the most interesting and important information appears first, and this approach will generally prove more effective than a lengthy argument full of questions and contradictions that gradually winds its way to momentous conclusions – the kind of argument, that is, associated with the back-loading characteristic of more traditional publishing formats.
There is also in the online scholarship produced for these shorter formats a tendency to simplify and popularise research and the writing that reports it. This trend is perhaps inevitable given the wide accessibility of blogs and websites, and while it might be considered regrettable by some scholars, it is warmly welcomed by others. It definitely makes information available to many interested readers – sometimes readers very much in need of the information – who would never have encountered it through conventional scholarly publication, and that cannot help but be a good thing. The danger that scholarship presented in these ways is dummied down, however, and represents less than a poor reflection of work disseminated through traditional scholarly publishers is more complicated. Yes, this can certainly be the case when true knowledge and sound research do not lie behind apparently scholarly posts and blogs, but when they do, there is no doubt that the depth of thought associated with traditional scholarship shines through as significant results and implications are shared.
Choosing whether to take an active part or not in what might almost be considered something of an online scholarly revolution is one that each academic or scientist must make, but if you have thought about disseminating some of your research in posts and blogs, but have hesitated due to uncertainties and misgivings, remember that the best way to ensure a large body of excellent scholarship is to contribute to that body yourself. You might even discover how pleasant it can be to know that new groups of readers are enjoying and benefiting from your research and writing. Besides, sharing your work online certainly does not prevent you from publishing it via more traditional venues as well, and the best online scholarship is quick to refer interested readers to more complete and in-depth reports of the research that inspired it.
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