What is the difference between a paper and a blog post?
October 14, 2012
As things stand there are two principal types of written communication in science: papers and blog posts. We’ve discussed the relative merits of formally published papers and more informal publications such as blog-posts a couple of times, but perhaps never really dug into what the differences are between them.
Matt and I have been discussing this offline, and at one point Matt suggested that authorial intent is one of the key differences. When we write and submit a paper, we are sending a different message from when we post on a blog.
That’s true — at least in general, although there are edge-cases such as the formal research paper that Zen Faulkes recently posted as an entry on his blog. But even when it’s true, I’m not sure it’s relevant. As Matt pointed out, authorial intent ceases to be a factor once something is published. The audience will read it how they like and do with it what they want. So I think we need to consider the paper-vs.-blog-post question in terms of the artifact itself, and discount what the author intended.
When we do that, what differences do we see? Generalising, we find that:
- Papers are PDF while blog-posts are HTML. (That’s not quite a trivial distinction: PDFs have less clutter.)
- Blog-posts allow and invite comments, but papers do not.
- Blog-posts are part of an ongoing discussion whereas papers are stand-alone.
- Papers are archived on publisher sites, whereas blog-posts are on blogs, which may be more vulnerable or ephemeral.
- Papers are immutable once published, whereas blog-posts can be edited after initial publication
- Papers are peer-reviewed, while blog-posts are not.
- Blog-posts are fast, but papers are slow.
Which of these are important? Which count as wins for papers and which as wins for blog-posts? Which of them are tied together with each other? Which are fundamentally properties of the medium, and which are associated with it only by tradition?