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Blog Quality Anxiety – Should Blogs Seek to be Publishable?

February 27, 2013

There are some bloggers whom I adore to read. They have a way with language that puts my blog to shame. When I read their blogs, I am split between 1) being convicted to work harder…and 2) being discouraged from continuing at all.

That’s just in terms of style, though. If you checked the link in my earlier article to the Times and Seasons’ post Mauss on Dialogue, then you would recognize that there are other reasons for me — or any blogger — to have a similar conviction/discouragement dilemma. I’m inclined to agree with Mauss that the quality of most blogs is lacking in comparison to rigorous papers and scholarly journal articles. To quote Mauss at more length from Ben Park’s article The Perils of Blogs:

One drawback, though, is the tendency I have noticed for many who frequent the blogosphere to ask questions, or express opinions, in seeming ignorance of the rich literature found in journals and books that would bear importantly upon the very topics they wish to discuss. I realize that there is an immediate gratification in seeing one’s ideas disseminated to a large audience simply by hitting the “send” key, but in a couple of days one’s treasured thoughts disappear into the archives (or into cyberspace), where their future visibility will be limited. Far better, it seems to me, to collect one’s ideas (even if from one’s own blogs), document them, refine them, and submit them for publication in journals that are peer reviewed, indexed, and readily available for scholarly research. I hope that many more bloggers can be converted in that way into Dialogue authors, for this and many other journals in Mormon studies will be heavily dependent on their talent in the future. (143)

When I re-read Mauss’s words, I thought to myself: what would it take to document my words, refine them, and prepare them for submission for publication in a peer-reviewed journal?

Maybe I’ll talk to you about my personal inadequacy and anxiety about being an accounting major instead?

At Texas A&M, there is (at least, in my experience — I don’t exactly have personal experience with too many other universities to compare) a robust honors community. There is also a robust business honors community. And, it seems, never the twain shall meet.

The honors community does the sorts of things that I imagine any honors community worth its salt does at a university — it offers opportunities for students to reach professors more intimately not only through smaller classes, but also different classes. Want to learn something from a professor, but it doesn’t really fit in with the class schedules? Perhaps some sort of course contract can be set up for that. Honors makes it happen.

The business school’s honors community similarly does the sorts of things that I imagine any business honors community worth its salt would do — not only does it have the classroom improvements of the traditional honors community (well, they probably won’t be as flexible with making up classes to fit your whims), but it also has pre-professional perks as well. So, the business honors community offers opportunities for students to reach professionals more intimately through various professional development events.

I can’t say that I was the best honors student. I’m can’t say I was the best business honors student. (In fact, based on my track record of engagement, I’m probably one of the worst. I fully accept that if I were a better honors student of either variety, I would have forged my own path even if it wasn’t already there…but I definitely lacked the courage to do anything like that.) But one unspoken thing that I got from my marginal participation on the outskirts of both communities was that they really weren’t trying to do the same thing.

The prize, it seemed, of the traditional honors community, was undergraduate research – and maybe even being compelling enough to get a national (or international) scholarship for the privilege.

…but undergraduate research simply didn’t seem to be as big of a deal for business honors. Instead, maybe you started your own organization, whether non-for-profit or very-much-for-profit? Or maybe you made it to one of the school’s prestigious networking organizations?

Even when I went into my Master’s program, I was aware of the stark difference between the “professional school” that a business school is and the “grad school” that, say, my science- or liberal arts-minded friends went to after undergrad. In my Accounting/Taxation master’s program, the only “research” class was a tax research class. And there certainly was no thesis involved at any point of the program. (To be fair, there is research in the business school. But it seems to me that this furthers my point about the dichotomy — when my professors said I should consider a Ph.D., they were asking me to go on a different track from my professional program track — which, since I had already accepted my employment offer, I wasn’t exactly in the position to switch tracks.)

When I was growing up, before I ultimately was attracted by the siren song of having a job that pays actual money, I thought that I would pursue some sort of social science. It didn’t really matter what (if I think back throughout junior high, I think my first encounter with psychology convinced me that I wanted to study psychology. My first encounter with sociology convinced me that I wanted to become a sociologist. Economics — of course, I’ll study economics! Linguistics? OK, I’ll find a way to put that in there too…), but I was going to go there.

Even with accounting, I think there are some interesting social scientific questions in the field. (I was fortunate that one of my accounting [business honors, of course] professors approached accounting with both an eye on theory and to application to real-world cases. But what really got me thinking was taking a course in international accounting. Now, it seems obvious that different societies would have different accounting rules to match different social and economic realities, but before, I hadn’t been exposed to that.) One day, I’ll get to them.

…But here’s the thing. How could I conduct research? How could I write an article for a journal? I have no training. I have no preparation. [I am vaguely aware that this could be the shadow side of my deliberative strength coming into play…that I am making so much out of so little, but that’s the thing — I don’t even know enough to know if it’s not a problem.] I know what the professional program says professionals should know…and the issue is that professionals are not the same as academics. 

I imagine that if I were serious, I could go back to school and learn about statistics, learn about research methodologies, and — most importantly — have hands-on experience with conducting research and getting feedback from it.

…but in the meantime, I have this tremendous anxiety and inferiority complex and don’t even want to try. “Outsider art” may be a valid, accepted phenomenon, but “outsider research”? Is that a thing?

And here we are…back to the question I was asking myself about Mauss’s words. What would it take?

In some level, Mormon Studies is a ripe field because it is relatively new. The amateur-to-professional ratio is still extremely favorable, and I do have my own personal experience to start from. However, there is still a body of work from earlier pioneers that cannot be ignored. And I must admit that I am horribly poorly read.

…At the end of the day, I would also like to be able to write articles like this one, too. I understand that this wouldn’t be right for any academic journal, but I’m OK with this. This is an article with which I can be happy.

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4 Comments
  1. Seth R. permalink

    Mormon studies is definitely a good place for non-PhDs to publish. Look at Brian Hales who just published a, I think, four volume masterwork on LDS polygamy.

    Read the bio section. He’s an anesthesiologist. Mormon studies is one of those areas that the traditional academic world just hasn’t discovered. So the field is ripe with amateur historians, hobbyists, and enthusiasts who have largely self-educated themselves. If it comes to that – you and I probably know more about Mormon history than most of the higher education history faculty in the United States.

    Another thing, as someone who has actually been published, and who subsequently served as an editor at the same publication the next year:

    https://litigation-essentials.lexisnexis.com/webcd/app?action=DocumentDisplay&crawlid=1&doctype=cite&docid=4+Wyo.+L.+Rev.+753&srctype=smi&srcid=3B15&key=fede3766913823883b6a7bb826c2763e

    I can say that I think you’re puffing up the world of academic publishing just a bit. It’s not half as exacting as you’re thinking. The reality is, whether you get published or not depends more on your connections and reputation than it depends on the technical quality of your writing. That’s what editors are for, after all. Truth is, if you’re well-connected in a certain historical or social interest community, you’re well-positioned to publish.

    Finally, it kind of sounds like you’re trying to talk yourself out of it. I just respond – it can’t hurt to try it, right? Worst that can happen is that you’ll be turned down and left with a lot of extra polished content for blogging.

  2. Seth R. permalink

    I think the two hyperlinks in my previous comment may have put it into a moderation filter or something.

  3. comment fished.

    Finally, it kind of sounds like you’re trying to talk yourself out of it.

    I think this makes it sounds like I’m convinced way more than I actually am (so that it actually takes a substantial amount to “talk myself out of it.”)

    anyway, good points on connections/reputation vs. technical quality.

  4. In my opinion, you have what it takes to be published. Your posts are well worded and well thought out. I think you should submit your work for publication. Even if you don’t get published, it may be worth hearing the feedback.

    I’ve long thought it was ridiculous that only PhD candidates could or should be published in their own field. If someone has original work that is well thought out and referenced, why not publish it? In practice I know it doesn’t always work that way.

    In terms of work (completely unrelated to mormonism), for many employers having published blogs or essays in trade publications can be very good for promotions (i.e. being recognized outside of your company as an expert in the field). Long term I would definitely consider drafting accounting articles and submitting them for publication.

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