A Blog Post-Mortem

Last July, I authored the very first post for this blog — a biographical piece about my personal history with videogame hacking, specifically focusing upon my experiences as an EarthBound hacker and how that has affected my approach as a researcher. I have found myself revisiting that first post as I scaffold out the introduction and conclusion for my thesis which, barring some sort of catastrophic failure in the revision process, seems to be nearly complete. My research has changed so much since last spring — when I first proposed my project to my cohort and my supervisor — and that blog post serves as a reminder of my frame of mind as I entered into the largest academic project of my life.

Although I’m not quite done my thesis yet, I have an inkling that I only have a small number of blog posts left in me (and that number may, in fact, be zero). So before I run out of momentum, or I get too wrapped up in the anxiety that accompanies revisions and a thesis defense, I thought I’d write a short post-mortem about this blog. I’d like to interrogate how useful it has been to my research, if the effort has justified the results, and if it has granted me any unanticipated benefits or downfalls.

I original proposed my blog as a part of my research methodology. The impetus behind it was to gradually formulate tentative propositions from my research, while presenting them in an accessible manner and inviting feedback from academics and hobbyists from across the web. My approach was inspired by Laurel Richardson’s Writing: A Method of Inquiry and Writing Strategies: Reaching Diverse Audiences, in which she poses a pair ideas that she believes are vital to qualitative writers. She encourages researchers to “understand ourselves reflexively as persons writing from particular positions at specific times” and to free ourselves from “trying to write a single text in which everything is said to everyone.” Working with the understanding that research data is somewhat malleable, Richardson encourages researchers to create diverse interpretations and presentations of their knowledge. I viewed a blog as an ideal medium for this type of iterative writing as it is an accessible, no-strings-attached publication platform.

Since I began the project last summer, I mainly used the blog as an outlet whenever I felt inspired to write (or perhaps even rant) on a particular topic related to my research. I found it incredibly freeing to write without worrying about the usual academic publication formalities, while incorporating media content to help contextualize my work. Through the dozen or so posts I’ve made for the blog, I’ve been able to create a sort of makeshift research repository — one that I can revisit to consolidate ideas and follow-up on research leads that may have fallen by the wayside. The reason I gravitated back to my first blog post, for example, was to reflect on my personal involvement with videogame hacking for inclusion in the introduction of my thesis.

One of the key things that had changed from an “expectations vs reality” perspective is the frequency in which I updated my blog. Although the total amount of posts pretty much matched what I had expected, the distribution of posts over time did not. Instead of updating once or twice a month across my entire research timeline, most of the posts were clustered in the first five months. I found myself most inspired to blog during my literature review and while I was conducting my interviews, and my posting schedule totally fell off a cliff as I began writing drafts of my thesis. I suppose this makes sense, as there are (shockingly!) limits to how much I can write in a day, and my blog posts tend to focus on new findings rather than my thesis writing process. Thus, a flow emerged to how I conducted my work: gather information, write blog posts, and then work on my thesis.

Although the blog was certainly useful for crafting my thesis, I also found it essential for facilitating other types of academic work. I have sourced material from my blog posts for conference presentations, abstracts, online publications, and various other purposes. One of the strengths of these casually written posts is that they tend to be less jargony than my thesis, making them ideal for content that is presented orally to groups of people, especially non-academics. Additionally, the blog has provided me with a platform to share my work quickly and concisely. On more than one occasion, instead of trying to encapsulate my research in an email, I’ve simply sent a link to www.sub-versions.com. I’ve even had a few scholars subscribe to my RSS feed or mention blog posts to me, unprompted.

Was all the effort of creating a blog and filling it with content worth it though? Since entering academia, I feel like much of what I do involves recycling my research in different ways to facilitate presentations and writing. At the very least, the blog has helped facilitate this churn, but to say that is the only thing it has accomplished would be selling it short. It has served as sort of intermediary area for my research, existing between rough notes and publication. It has allowed me to explore research leads without over-committing to a theory or concept, serving as a sort of research notebook where I can stow scraps of writing, images, links, and much more. And, importantly, it has helped me transform errant thoughts into cohesive academic writing all throughout my research process. As someone who took a long absence from academia and, at times, has struggled with the process of academic writing, this has proven invaluable to my development as a scholar.

As my research winds down, the blog serves another purpose: an online archive of my thesis work. My written thesis may be somewhat lost in an academic archive, and my raw research materials will remain locked away on encrypted hard drives, but this website will be publicly available for a least a few more years. As I transition into my PhD, it is comforting to know that I can return to my work anytime I like, and that I can share it digitally and accessibly.

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By Michael