Think-Aloud Blogging – Preparing for Formal Writing

This is an important topic for many ESL students seeking to develop their formal writing skills. One challenge is how to separate the informal and formal types of writing. Sometimes in blogging, the personal details get mixed in with the more formal writing. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is a bit odd for readers who are seeking information about a subject, not the author’s own personal life details.

I think that it is important to develop our formal writing and document our thought-processes along the way. I call this Think-Aloud Blogging, and it is intended not as a piece of formal writing, but as a way to support and enhance the formal writing process.


Terry Anderson has written this blog post about issues surrounding student disclosure of private details on their blogs.

Oftentimes, students are confused between the requirements for writing formal academic settings, such as what is expected usually within a formal learning setting, and what is acceptable and expected as self-sponsored writing.

This post is intended to un-pack some common techniques professional academics use on blogs for presenting ideas.

Note to Audience: This technique of appending extra thoughts to the post is an example, of the use of blogging for monitoring and reflecting on self-performance – the capture of self-talk is neither personal, nor is it essentially academic ( I have never seen a writer’s second thoughts and revisions on an academic paper, anyway). So this is an example of the “think-aloud” activity that blogging is so uniquely effective for capturing.

Terry Anderson demonstrates that the tone, the voice, differs significantly in the formal presentation of ideas. In his blog post Rethinking Disclosure and Surveillance, for example, the presentation of ideas includes citations, references, and quotes from a number of sources. The presentation of data is sequential and organized. For example, he describes the behaviour of adolescents, and backs up his arguments with a list of data. Then he proceeds to strengthen his main argument by broadening the discussion to include adults as well.

A key element of academic argumentation is to take the perspective of the other, in this case, those who are critical of blogging:

“One is tempted to think that the only rational solution to social networking and blogging is not to do it” (Anderson, 2010, blog post).

The blog post uses a number of other connective techniques not typically associated with academic writing. The use of embedded links, for example, are often not seen in academic papers, and visible only in blog posts.

However, Terry models clear rules for effective use of links to support his arguments:

“In a 2008 paper on First Monday, Albrechtslund makes an argument for the positive benefits of ‘participatory surveillance’ .”

Note to self: I am intrigued to explore how frequently how other academic bloggers use citations and references in their blog posts, and whether they use a similar style or a different approach – something to look into at some point.

This embedded link has sufficient context to identify the journal, the year of publication, the URL, and the author, as well as enough details identifying the significance of the link and its relevance to the main idea of the post.

Terry then goes on to quote from sections of the article accessible in the open journal, IRRODL, the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. This is another characteristic of academic writing. It is not enough to just link away, it is crucial to select credible, high-quality academic sources that support one’s main ideas.

Note to Audience: This is the beginning of my interpretive piece, analyzing the sub-text of Terry’s post, based on my own recent readings. I am “reading into” what Terry has said, and am unsure if this what was intended, or implied.

He continued his post by engaging in what Marlene Atleo describes as a process called phenomenological orienteering (Atleo, 2001). The blogging activity enables academics to engage in storying, in examining others’ perspectives.

Thus, I would argue that the act of blogging affords writers a freedom to “…move across world-views, mapping oneself from one worldview onto another and onto yet another, and then back again” (Atleo, 2001).

Thus, Terry Anderson is engaging in professorial discourse, stating arguments in a formal, academic voice, a voice that students aim to emulate and develop themselves. He moves from a story about scientologists and their activities on UUNet, to describing the scenario of FaceBook, and moving on to the experience of users of ELGG in the learner community, Athabasca Landing.

Note to Audience: I have engaged in “professorial discourse analysis” providing a tentative “take” on what Terry was writing about, and opening myself up to conversation, so that my misconceptions, misunderstandings, are revealed and clear for interpretation and correction. This is an example of discourse that invites conversation, dialogue and feedback from the source blogger.

In this blog post, I have examined common techniques academics write formal prose on their blogs. Having unpacked the techniques that academics use in their blogging practice, I understand why students are commonly confused over the requirements for writing in formal academic settings, what is expected of them as bloggers within a formal learning setting, and what is acceptable and expected as self-sponsored, personal writing.

Note to audience: I deliberately used an oral rhetorical device by repeating a main point from the beginning of the post at mid-point, and adding extra details to it. Thus, the use of the blog affords us to use a process of writing in which we recycle and repeat main points, as is the case in the oral tradition.

Without a clear map, students confuse self-sponsored writing with academic blogging, and mix the prose, mix the voices, and experience undue frustration and ambivalence.

Students may respond to their frustration and ambivalence in two ways: they could either turn off their internal critic, and write personal content not typically found within a formal academic blogging context, mixing personal content with formal, academic prose, or turn on the internal critic full blast, so to speak, and become reluctant, exasperated and resisting, throttling their blogging efforts to a trickle.

One of the concerns I have about enabling student blogging is that sometimes academics (and students, I hasten to add) entering into blogging with students have not themselves clearly identified heuristics for handling self-sponsored writing – blogging by students that is reflective, emotional and highly personal, and often not directly connected with anything being taught in the course.

How should instructors (and other learners exposed to intensely personal content by other students, for that matter) engage these learners appropriately, using a variety of conversational types, such as strategic talk, or normative discussions, or even purposeful talk? I think this is a question worth further exploration.

The methods for using blogs, the tone, the voice, all differ, depending on the type of talk we are engaging in with our learners. Instructors (and learners) need to be explicit, identify the purpose for their talk, the tone and voice in use, and acknowledge as well that the other prose that extends and blurs the boundaries between academic and personal is valid, and legitimate, as well.

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4 Comments on "Think-Aloud Blogging – Preparing for Formal Writing"

  1. netizenship | July 10, 2010 at 9:09 PM |

    This is an example of weaving, when I insert the link to the blog post, and include some context such as the author and a brief idea about the subject.

  2. netizenship | July 10, 2010 at 9:14 PM |

    This change of voice and perspective is an example of self-observation, a critical element of identity construction – looking at own blogging work as observer as one is blogging, switching roles and perspectives.

  3. netizenship | July 10, 2010 at 9:17 PM |

    By actively scanning and deep reading of own posts, paragraph by paragraph, and adding annotated comments and notes, and adding transcript codes, there is a a more focused approach to blogging, so that one spends more time adding details and more context.

  4. netizenship | July 10, 2010 at 9:24 PM |

    I have tied Marlene Atleo’s concept of phenomenological orienteering to attempt to explain Anderson’s narrative, his careful analysis using a few examples to illustrate his points.

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