What do you think of when you hear the word “research”?
Many people who are not based in a very academic setting (e.g. a university) hear the word “research” and immediately think that it will be boring, dry, confusing, esoteric, irrelevant to “real life”, or that it will take them forever to read and understand a research publication. Of course, sometimes research is like this — but it doesn’t have to be!
I work for a publisher and a key part of my role is to help our teams integrate research findings into ELT courses, materials, methods and approaches. I’m also a teacher trainer and do my best to ensure that I’m up-to-date with research findings from applied linguistics, so that the recommendations and guidance that I give teachers are sound and likely to genuinely benefit teaching and learning. My own experience is valuable, of course, but there are also many things I can learn from others, and research is particularly valuable when it leads me to question my own long-held beliefs, ultimately strengthening, changing or adapting them in the face of new evidence.
One of the challenges I face on a daily basis is how to make research interesting and engaging for the people who need or want to apply research to their daily practice, and who tend not to enjoy reading long academic texts which are often only published in journals, behind a paywall that is prohibitive for most teachers. There are many alternative ways of sharing research findings. This blog series is a collection of some of my favourites.
One way researchers can share their findings is through blogging.
A number of popular ELT blogs already do this — mainly sharing others’ research findings, digesting them into short, accessible texts and relating them to classroom practice. For example:
- ELT Research Bites, in which various authors summarize applied linguistics research papers
- An A-Z of ELT, where Scott Thornbury writes about all number of topics and often refers to primary research, like in this post about L1 use in L2 learning
And then there are also blogs whose writers share their own primary research findings, like these:
- Separated by a Common Language, where Lynne Murphy “explore[s] the often subtle differences in American and British English” and gives examples of the corpus research she’s done in the process of these explorations. Here’s an interesting post from last year about how people use variations on “honestly”.
- The Stanford NLP Group blog, where multiple authors share their research processes and findings related to Natural Language Processing.
And those which do a bit of both:
- The Thesis Whisperer, featuring posts by Dr Inger Mewburn and many other guest authors (as well as an impressive blogroll of PhD students who blog about their research, and not only in English!)
- Strong Language, a group blog that focuses on – obviously – strong language (swearing). Here’s a post by a guy who researches use of the middle finger in American Sign Language.
Blogging allows researchers’ work to reach a wider audience and/or may even boost downloads or citations for this work, if the author links through to articles published elsewhere. And practising teachers are probably more likely to read blogs than journals (this is my intuition; I have no empirical support, before you ask!), which makes it more likely that the implications stated by a researcher will be considered as having real applications in classrooms.
Blogs also tend to follow different genre conventions to academic publications, which can make them much more readable for people who don’t have experience with the latter category of text, or a high enough proficiency level in the language of publication to really understand much of what they’re reading, or are simply not wild about the prospect of reading 20+ pages of dense academic prose and then working out what it might mean for their own context (and I include myself in this last group).
Such publications (and those who author, edit, publish and review them) might fear that this ‘less academic’ style is a problem — blogs are typically not peer-reviewed, otherwise independently quality-checked or consistent in their presentation of information — but to my mind, these aren’t necessarily weaknesses of blogging; they’re just traits that distinguish blogging from some other genre of text. Blogs serve a different purpose. Nobody would criticise a recipe in a cookbook for not being peer-reviewed, though it’s probably been based on ‘practitioner research’ (in a sense), piloted, revised, edited, etc. before publication. It’s a different text for a different audience and different purpose.
- Here’s a nice big list of blogs related to linguistics, some of which focus on research and its applications to practice.
- If you’re a researcher who’s never blogged before, here’s a post that contains useful practical advice on how to get started.