Why blogging and popular writing are crucial to academia

Since I discovered literary-minded psychologist and writer Maria Konnikova, I’ve been reading through her long history of blogs for Scientific American and Big Think. As a published writer who crosses genres and also holds a doctorate of psychology, Konnikova is right up there on my list of “people I want to become.”

While perusing old posts, I stumbled upon this article of hers titled “Why grad schools should require students to blog.” A simple enough message. To make her point, Konnikova focuses on detailing the process of writing her psychology dissertation, a gargantuan project that required distilling an overwhelming amount of meticulously culled information into one well-organized, logical paper. For anyone, writing a dissertation is a challenging, if not insurmountable, task. But, Konnikova argues, a blogger’s experience with translating complex ideas into layman’s terms and synthesizing information from multiple sources (that you’ve also verified are trustworthy) can go a long way in combating the 40-50% drop-out rate of grad students in Phd programs.

Personally, I would take this argument one step further and argue that blogging and popular writing should be a requirement for all academics. Though of course this is not always true, it seems to me that much of academic research and writing is only made accessible to other academics. I’m not just referring to the excessively high subscription prices for academic journals.  Academic writing can be incredibly jargonistic and impossible to follow if you don’t know the in-language of that group. Not only does this prevent accessibility of the content to widespread audiences, it serves as a crutch. Think about it – don’t you enhance your understanding of a concept when you explain it in to a different audience in a different way?

Requiring academics (and grad students) to translate their theoretical ideas and research into popular writing would benefit everyone, enhancing academics’ research and writing skills and making abstract ideas and new discoveries accessible, interesting and relevant for everyone else. Of course, I have heard of the very snobby, high-brow forces that drive the academic field and frown at this idea. Konnikova alludes to this also. But with a new generation of students that is more connected and technologically inclined than ever, I feel that there is room for change and a desire to bring light to even the dustiest niches of academia.

All of this is on my mind as I consider my next steps for graduate school. Should I pursue a program more focused on craft, an MFA in Creative Nonfiction? Or, should I satisfy my more academic impulses for research and ethnographic study and apply to Psychology or Sociology graduate programs? Either way, I’ll be writing.

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