Academic Blogging in the Humanities: A Survey of de.hypotheses Bloggers

In the fall of 2018, we conducted an anonymous online survey among academic bloggers in the humanities. Our goal was to find out more about bloggers’ motivation as well as their practical routines: Why do humanities scholars blog? What makes a blog or a blog post successful in their eyes? What does the publishing process look like from an editorial perspective? And finally, how do blogs fit into the academic discourse? A total of 204 people participated in the survey. The comprehensive questionnaire was completed by 147 humanities bloggers, 98 of whom were part of the de.hypotheses platform. We would like to thank all those who took part and held out until the end of the 46 questions!

The survey results confirm that academic blogging continues to cover an extremely broad range of practices. One trend which we have observed is that academic bloggers in the humanities use blogs strategically and, in doing so, exhibit a high degree of professionalism – even those who describe themselves as less technically savvy. As a result, academic blogs have become a well-established presence as an additional medium of communication in the academic discourse in the humanities.

This article outlines the most important results of the survey, based on the answers given by the bloggers from the de.hypotheses community. A complete analysis and interpretation of the answers of the bloggers of de.hypotheses can be found in the data report (in German, PDF), which is available at HAL-SHS, while the data paper is published at Zenodo. In the data report, we have included a short chapter about the differences between de.hypotheses bloggers and those who are not part of the platform, as well as some gender-specific observations.((1))

Data Sample and Response Rate

According to the survey results, those most active in academic blogging are early- and mid-career researchers, with a fairly even gender distribution. As many as 30 percent of all de.hypotheses bloggers have been employed in academia for over thirteen years. In terms of academic disciplines, historians formed the largest group (50 percent). The survey was sent to the de.hypotheses mailing list, which included 597 e-mail addresses at that point, and yielded an impressive response rate of 17 percent (thanks so much to all who participated!).

Blogging – Just Do It? Planning Comes First!

The survey results clearly refute the common bias that scholars use blogs as an easy publication, making blogs a place where anyone can write about anything without any quality control. Instead, we found that a full 72 percent of all de.hypotheses bloggers agreed with the statement “I plan my blog’s content very carefully”. Evidently, humanities bloggers don’t “just do it”.

Similarly, the survey results give reason to question the bias that academic blogs lack quality control. Indeed, at least half of that bias is unfounded, given that almost 50 percent of humanities bloggers do not rely solely on their own (spelling) knowledge: As many as 33 percent of all bloggers report that blog posts go through an editorial check before publication, and 11 percent ask a colleague to read the post before it goes online.

This observation goes hand in hand with the trend to blog as a team: Fewer than half of all respondents publish their blogs on their own (45 percent), 34 percent said that they team up with colleagues to publish a blog and 21 percent said that they regularly post articles by guest contributors.

Also: As many as 27 percent of de.hypotheses bloggers have created separate social media accounts for their blogs.

Goals and Audience

The primary goal listed by the humanities bloggers surveyed here was to use their blog as a means of communication, mainly targeting an academic audience (52 percent). When asked how they evaluate their blogs’ success, about half of the respondents believe that blogging helps them 1) to claim a research topic 2) to organize and try out new thoughts and 3) to document their own research activities. „Practicing writing“ plays a rather subordinate role as a goal, but just like „enhancing one’s reputation as a researcher,“ it is a tangible side effect of blogging (see below under Highlights).

Bloggers Don’t Often Publish on Their Blogs…

The days when blogs where used as an online diary which was filled on a daily basis are mostly over (if they ever did exist in the humanities). Most bloggers publish less than one article per month, and half of our bloggers reported investing less than an hour per week into their blog. Just under a third of academic bloggers in the humanities report following a regular publication schedule, similar to those of other publication formats (such as every Wednesday). On average, blog posts are one to two pages long.

… But They Spend a Lot of Time Reading Other Blogs!

In contrast to the moderate amount of time put into their own blogs, academic bloggers invest quite a bit of time into reading other academic blogs. Almost a quarter of respondents said that they read academic blogs several times a week.

Academic bloggers mostly write about topics close to their own research (77 percent).  Only 16 percent blog about academic life in general and only 16 percent write about teaching.

Bloggers Don’t Comment

At 94 percent, almost all humanities bloggers agree that they enjoy receiving feedback on their blog posts. But 89 percent (!!) of bloggers say that they only rarely or never comment on other bloggers’ articles. What is more, academic blogs exist surprisingly separately from each other: Only 22 percent of academic bloggers in our survey have a blog roll. Instead, the discussion takes place elsewhere: In social media, by e-mail, and mostly in person.

And Yet: People Talk About Blog Posts!

The blogosphere is not a separate cosmos which only exists online. Instead, blogs are part of a larger academic information space in which on- and offline communication overlap: Humanities bloggers report that colleagues talk to them about their blog posts, that blog posts are mentioned in lectures or forwarded via e-mail, and that their posts are cited in print and online publications. Thus, for academic bloggers, a blog post’s success is not measured by its statistical reach. Instead, they view a post as successful when they receive oral feedback on it (72 percent).

Design, Navigation, Links

In addition to the content of a science blog, design also plays an important role, according to 89 percent of the humanities bloggers we surveyed. The majority of bloggers spend a lot of time adding hyperlinks and selecting images – the most recognizable features of online publications.  However, only a quarter of the respondents reported investing time in adding multimedia elements. Academic bloggers thus mostly think of their blogs as places to host short articles, not so much as places to try out new technical and medial possibilities in writing.

Some Gender-Specific Observations((2))

Female bloggers are more likely than the overall sample to devise a precise strategy. They are more likely to host only one blog and less likely to blog as a team.

When asked about their goals, they list “communication and exchange” somewhat less prominently than the general sample, whereas “self-promotion (become known as a researcher, claim a research topic)” is weighted higher than in the overall sample!

Female bloggers tend to be more skeptical regarding the question whether their blog helps them claim a research topic. They are also more critical than the overall sample of de.hypotheses bloggers regarding the question whether blogs can help them build an academic network. In contrast, female bloggers are more optimistic in evaluating whether academic blogs can help them create on online presence.

Female bloggers are much more likely to fear plagiarism than the overall sample. They are also more afraid of making mistakes, of being embarrassed or of encountering negative consequences for their careers.

When it comes to promoting their blogs, female humanities bloggers are more likely to advertise blog posts orally or by e-mail than the overall sample.

Some Other Highlights

The data report is a full 64 pages long (including all tables) and different people are likely to take away different insights from it. Here are my own personal highlights from the survey, freely interpreted:

  • Blogs are used as a tool of communication, not for publication. They are used and perceived as a medium in their own right.
  • Humanities bloggers maintain a relaxed approach to academic blogs, while at the same time adhering to academic standards.
  • Only 12 percent of all humanities bloggers list “enhancing one’s reputation as a researcher” as a goal, but 30 percent report that their blog has done just that!
  • In a similar way, only 16 percent said that “practicing writing” was a goal when starting their blog, but 51 percent listed “practicing writing” as a successful outcome.
  • In contrast, 49 percent of humanities bloggers did not think that blogging helps with the goal to “network with other researchers” – but 46 percent of our respondents listed this as one of their goals.
  • A full 70 percent of de.hypotheses bloggers use a Creative Commons license for their blog. In the overall sample, the proportion is significantly lower (63 percent). This likely reflects the activities of the Community Management and the Editorial Team, who have worked to raise bloggers’ awareness to this topic (for instance by creating the blog & law section on the Redaktionsblog).
  • Around three-quarters (77 percent) of the bloggers surveyed did not agree or for the most part did not agree with the statement, „I am worried that my blog posts could be plagiarized“. Precisely!

Thank You!

Once more, I would like to thank everyone who contributed to the creation and analysis of the survey. This includes community managers Ulla Menke and Louise Zbiranski, editorial team members Karoline Döring, Klaus Graf, Eliane Kurmann, Lilian Landes, and Anton Tantner. Michael Kaiser and Celia Burgdorff read the data report and Helen Bubinger helped to create the survey in LimeSurvey.

Read More

The complete analysis of the survey among de.hypotheses bloggers, including all statistics, can be found in the 64-page data report published by HAL-SHS (in German):

Mareike König, Geisteswissenschaftliches Bloggen bei de.hypotheses. Erste Ergebnisse der Umfrage zu Motivationen, Praktiken und Routinen. Datenreport, Paris, 6.6.2019, https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-02150327.

Short statistics of all answers and the data paper (also in German) can be found at Zenodo: DOI 10.5281/zenodo.3249964 and at GitHub: https://github.com/Mareike2405/survey-dehypotheses-2018.

Image: Visualization of parts of the data report, created in March 2019 with the visualization tool of Katharina Kiefer and Jonas Sell, mainzed.


Deutsche Fassung des Beitrags: https://redaktionsblog.hypotheses.org/4246.

Version française de cet article : https://dhiha.hypotheses.org/2671.

  1. HAL-SAS: https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-02150327, in German. The Data set which includes all answers can be downloaded via Zenodo: https://zenodo.org/record/3249965#.Xw7RSe6FPmE and GitHub: https://github.com/Mareike2405/survey-dehypotheses-2018. It is licensed as CC-BY 2.0 []
  2. See the data report for the limited representativeness of our gender-specific observations. []

Mareike König

Dr. Mareike König ist stellvertretende Direktorin am Deutschen Historischen Instituts Paris. Sie arbeitet über deutsch-französische Beziehungen im 19. Jahrhundert und über digitale Geschichte. Sie leitet außerdem die Redaktion des deutschsprachigen Blogportals für die Geisteswissenschaften de.hypotheses.org.

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