Saturday, October 23, 2010

Moving Between Genres: The Challenges and Rewards of Interdisciplinary Blogging

In my last post, I talked a bit about my other blog, and the final project of which it is a part. Since I am building steam on writing for that blog, I wanted to write this post about what I have learned so far blogging both as a historian and as a LIS student. I would love to hear what experience other writers have in working between disciplines, so please add your thoughts to the comments!

The first difference I've noticed is my tone when writing. On this blog, I have developed my own 'voice' as it were, and feel like I can write somewhat more casually. The other blog doesn't use a very formal tone for the actual blog posts, but I feel like I need to write more in the way I would write for a peer-reviewed journal when writing the sections on historical background.I also use many more citations in the other blog, because it is based primarily on historical research.
On this blog, I do draw from other sources, but I don't find myself using parenthetical citations and a bibliography, because I am doing as much sharing of my own thoughts as I am pulling from other sources. That difference in approach is also reflected in the content: on this blog I feel much more comfortable sitting down and writing a post about some aspect of my professional life that I find interesting or particularly relevant, whereas when I post on the other blog I feel like I need to sit down and plan out what I will post about and how that fits into the scope of a larger project. Basically its the difference between creating a space for more formal research versus a place to share new ideas and offer my opinion on a subject.
The biggest challenges for me with this type of writing come from trying to switch not only between voices, but between ways of approaching a post. The Markham blog requires that at least some of my posts be approached as tightly-formed arguments on an aspect of a historical document (his cookery manual, in this instance). This blog requires me to write clearly for an audience across multiple disciplines, and discuss the world as it exists now. The greatest reward is that these two styles complement each other very well: by forcing myself to write academically on one blog, I can ensure that I am forming coherent arguments on this one. By writing in a way that (I hope) is interesting and accessible on this blog, I prevent my other writing from becoming too dry.
Because the blogs are updated frequently and are a more dynamic entity than an article, I feel this difference much more acutely than when I am writing papers on several different subjects. It probably helps that peer reviewed journals tend to adhere to some similar expectations in terms of building and defending an argument, and even in the scholarly language used in the paper.
I'm sure I will notice many more differences between the way I write for different projects as I go on, but one advantage I feel like I am giving myself here is exposure to a wider variety of writing styles--by both blogging and writing for more traditional publications across a number of disciplines, I am (slowly) familiarizing myself with the tenets of 'good writing' for these fields, a skill which I hope will be useful as I continue to work in a field as interdisciplinary as LIS.


  1. It seems to me (and forgive me if this is just a statement of the obvious) that the core topic of this blog is Julia (and her relationship with her research), whereas the core topic of your other blog is your Markham research (and only incidentally and occasionally the researcher). So it's not really very surprising that you've chosen to make your voice here more personal, intimate and informal (it's a kind of behind-the-scenes glimpse at the research process), and your voice there relatively more formal and scholarly. I say relatively, because, as your Markham blog is essentially a work-in-progress, it's probably less formal than the final published product will be; and even that will probably be less formal than a purely academic paper, because you're trying to tread a delicate path of creating a scholarly work that also appeals to a non-specialist readership. It's all a matter of judging your audience, but whether you're doing it consciously or instinctively, you seem to be doing fine!

    On a peripheral topic, have you considered how writing styles are shaped by different citation conventions (footnotes, 'Harvard' in-text, or the compromise of Harvard-in-footnotes - there's probably a proper name for that third one, but I don't know it). Footnotes (and I love footnotes, by the way) allow you to adopt a much more literary, nuanced, fluid style: you can create a layered text, using the notes to go off on tangents, to qualify what you've said in your main text, or to explain that you've modified what your source actually says, and why that's justified. Harvard citations encourage a much punchier style of writing, in short staccato sentences, and give a sense of precision, which of course is why scientists like them (personally, I think the sense of precision can sometimes be an illusion). Of course, all the different systems have their uses (and I'm delighted to see that B-sides isn't prescriptive about citation!), but my point is that they're not just different methods of presentation, they really do affect how you write. I've thought quite a bit about this because my own research interests tend to cross the boundaries between history (one of the humanities) and archaeology (which likes to think of itself as a science). The difference was really brought home to me not long ago when a paper I'd intended for one journal had to be adapted for another: even making the relatively modest switch in citation style from bibliographical footnotes to Harvard-in-footnotes involved far more radical rewriting than I'd ever imagined!

  2. It's interesting that you mention that difference in topic (and I'm glad you did) because while it might be obvious, it's a significant contributor to the difference between the two blogs that I neglected to even think of it! I suspect that is a lot of the reason why the tone of the two blogs is different, but I do also like your point about formality--I'm working on (or re-working, rather) a scholarly article about Markham's book that deals with social class and intended audience that of course has a much different tone, but is requiring me to change the voice of the writing as I move it from an informal blog to a peer reviewed article.
    I also love that B Sides doesn't have any strictures about citation! I have run into several instances where a paper has to be adapted to a citation style (I mostly use Chicago and APA, but sometimes MLA). Even though two of the three are tailored to the humanities, there really is a significant difference in writing. I haven't used Harvard much, although it certainly feels much tighter and more concise than the more flow-y, wordy sentences one often finds in some humanities narratives.
    It is interesting to think of the other blog's citations as footnotes, and that's actually an idea I would really like to develop further because I could say more about the different concepts without adding extra bulk to the (relatively) concise blog posting itself. I suspect footnotes/endnotes (depending on the journal...) would be developed even further, but for a research blog it certainly is a valuable way to look at the citation and writing process!