What is a blog?

I was recently asked to work with a group of students on blogging. The students had been asked to write a weekly assessed blog of between 500 and 700 words and were having difficulty.

As I thought about it, I realised that I did not have enough information about what the students were expected to do, and neither – I think – did the students.

It made me start thinking about blogs and what they are. My problem – I think – was that I was trying to think of a blog as a genre, and I don’t think it can be categorised in that way. At the moment a blog is simply a medium.

If we agree that genres are “staged, goal oriented, social processes in speakers engage as members of our culture” (Martin, 1992, p. 505), then blogs cannot be seen in that way. There is no common idea of goal orientation for a blog, audiences are unclear and there are no fixed stages, in general, although particular blogs are often clear about there own aims.

So what is a blog?

To take a few quotations from Wikipedia:

“A blog is a discussion or informational website published on the World Wide Web consisting of discrete, often informal diary-style text entries (“posts”)”.

“Many blogs provide commentary on a particular subject or topic, ranging from politics to sports. Others function as more personal online diaries, and others function more as online brand advertising of a particular individual or company. A typical blog combines text, digital images, and links to other blogs, web pages, and other media related to its topic.

“The ability of readers to leave comments in an interactive format is an important contribution to the popularity of many blogs. ”

So blogs:

  • can be discussions, give information, provide commentary, be personal dairies, or advertisements.
  •  can include images and other media and links to related sites,
  •  are often informal, diary style,
  • are written regularly,
  • allow discussion.

So I wonder what the lecture I communicated with wanted her students to do. I asked her and she didn’t reply so I don’t know.

And is the Wikipedia definition useful.

Looking at a few blogs, I read:

  • My blog provides information, commentary and discussion and is relatively informal. It does include images and links as well as discussion. I often use it as a way to try to sort out my thoughts about a particular issue. The opinions are not as supported as well as they would need to be in a published article.
  • I don’t know how Alex Ding’s Teaching EAP blog fits into this. It is carefully thought out, serious, well referenced, written regularly, but certainly not informal. Steve Kirk’s The Teaping Point is similar.
  • Pat Thompson’s Patter blog, includes opinion and discussion, as well as useful information and publicity for her books. It is written very regularly and relatively informally.
  • The IATEFL blog mainly gives information. It is written regularly.
  • The TESOL president’s blog gives information as well as commentary and discussion.

So like all writing blogs are variable and depend on purpose and audience. The only things that characterise them are their regularity,  their medium and the fact that they allow – maybe hope for – discussion. Some blogs give information; others include discussion. Some are informal; others are formal. What I take from all this is that asking a student to write a blog is not enough. As with all writing, the purpose of the blog and the intended audience need to be clearly specified.

References

Martin, J. R. (1992). English text: System and structure. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

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