While cataloging past work is important, no academic will last long unless they continue to add to their own and to the field's body of knowledge. Blogs provide portable work spaces where scholars can tinker with ideas, test them in a safe environment, and prepare to share them with the larger academic discourse community.
•Practice makes perfect. Just as Kenneth Lockridge found commonplace books to be “private and heavily disguised place(s) in which to construct and console the self” (339) for women centuries ago, the same security may be needed for modern academic writers. Blogs offer a limited audience on which to test out and rehearse new knowledge. Instead of passively gathering and accepting existing knowledge, writers can actively record and reshape the information for themselves without the fear of retribution through grading or formal presentation. Although blogs are much more public than traditional commonplace books, they still offer a fairly limited audience.
•Utilize the pressure to perform. Having an audience, even only an implied audience, makes a huge difference in what and how we write. "Though ostensibly private," Matthew Barton reminds us, blogs "are always oriented towards a reading public" (184). This emphasis on readership may increase the quality and quantity of posts as bloggers become accustomed to checking in with readers. Knowing your words will potentially be viewed by others is motivation to more fully explore and explain some ideas and connections you might otherwise abandon too quickly. The adage that you don't really know something until you can explain it to others is nowhere truer than in blog discourse. The image at right shows contributors on my own blog including a professor and three fellow classmates.
•Learn from and with others. Dialogue as a means of learning is directly descended from Aristotle, Socrates and their contemporaries. Blogging is an ideal forum for conversations with colleagues and others interested and in some way invested in your field of study. The fact that "visitors to these writing spaces are most often treated as equals" (Barton, 182) separates scholarly blogging from classwork. The prize in this case is not a good grade, but genuine commentary and useful feedback from those in a position to shape ongoing work.
•Put off procrastination. It is easy to lose sight of the bigger picture in the midst of daily deadlines. Blogs offer a way to keep promising projects from dying at the end of each term. Instead of filing ideas away into a "finished" pile, blogs keep projects going as living documents still open for modification. The continuing presence of a document after its due date coupled with the accountability bloggers often feel for their readers, may also be a way to stave off the enemy of all grad students – procrastination.
• Publish quickly and easily. Getting published is a necessity to most anyone wishing to work in the academy, but is not always feasible for those new to a field thanks to time constraints and stringent refereeing practices at journals. Blogging is a way to "easily and cheaply publish ... writings online" (Barton 178) and lets authors circulate scholarship in a timely manner. Though it won't show up as a line on your vita, blog publishing may lead to later journal articles.
•Plan beyond the project level. Blogging is an important way that new scholars can demonstrate their specific skills, areas of interest and at least beginning expertise, and reflection of discussion in any given discourse community, according to Weller et. al. in a discussion of blogging in research groups (63). This demonstration of one's place in the field is useful not only to those who may visit a blog, but also to the blogger himself. The “sense of ownership” and “self-reflective” process involved in blogging allows students to “develop subjectivity and explore their thoughts and feelings,” according to Barton (189). The ability to stand back from one's own work and gain some perspective on where one fits is invaluable to those entering the field of composition.
•Get the "big picture". Coursework leads to endless reading and as we come across sources we begin to assemble a picture of the field as a whole. By categorizing previous papers and other projects, those new to composition and rhetoric begin to stockpile the common "truths" of a given discourse community. In this way, blogs become an electronic commonplace book containing useful research and quotations from others in the field. At right, English doctoral student Scott Eric Kaufman, uses his blog space to, among other things, organize a running list of works he will use in his dissertation.