Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Melissa Terras' Blog: Is blogging and tweeting about research papers worth it? The Verdict


Is blogging and tweeting about research papers worth it? The Verdict

when I tweeted my papers? Top ten downloaded papers from my department
in the last year, 7 of which include me in the author list.

In October 2011 I began a project to make all of my 26 articles published in refereed journals available via UCL's Open Access Repository - "Discovery".
I decided that as well as putting them in the institutional
repository, I would write a blog post about each research project, and
tweet the papers for download. Would this affect how much my research
was read, known, discussed, distributed?

I wrote about the stories behind the research papers - the stuff that doesn't make it into the official writeup. From becoming so immersed in developing 3D that you start walking into things in real life, to nearly barfing over the front row of an audience's shoes whilst giving a keynote, to passive aggressive notes from an archaeological dig
that take on a digital life of their own, I gave a run down, in roughly
reverse chronological order, of the 12 or so projects I've been
involved in over the past decade that resulted in published journal
papers. Along the way, I wrote a little bit about the difficulties getting stuff up there on the institutional repository in the first place, but the thing that really flew was my post on what happens when you blog and tweet a journal paper: showing (proving?) the link between blogging and tweeting and the fact that people will download your research if you tell them about it.

So what are my conclusions about this whole experiment?

rough stats, first of all. Most of my papers, before I blogged and
tweeted them, had one to two downloads, even if they had been in the
repository for months (or years, in some cases). Upon blogging and
tweeting, within 24 hours, there were on average seventy downloads of my
papers. Seventy. Now, this might not be internet meme status, but
that's a huge leap in interest. Most of the downloads followed the
trajectory I described with the downloads to Digital Curiosities,
in that there would be a peak of interest, then a long tail after. I
believe that the first spike of interest from people clicking the link
that flies by them on twitter (which was sometimes retweeted) is then
replaced by a gradual trickle of visitors from postings on other blogs,
and the fact that the very blog posts about the papers make them more
findable when the subject is googled. People read the blog posts - I
have about 2000 visitors here a month, 70% new, with an average time on
the site of 1 minute and 5 seconds. You come here and tend to read what I
have written (thanks!) and seem to be clicking and downloading my
research papers.

The image above shows the top ten papers
downloaded from my entire department over the last year. There were a
total of 6172 downloads from our department (UCL Department of Information Studies
is one of the leading iSchools in the UK). Look at the spikes. That's
where I blog and tweet about my research. I'm not the only person
producing research in my department (I think there are 18 current
members of staff and a further 20 or so who have moved on but still have
items in the institutional repository, but I'm the only person who has
gone the whole hog on promoting their research like this). You will see
that 7 out of 10 of the most downloaded papers from my Department in the
last calendar year have me in the author list. As a clue, I dont know
anything about Uganda, e-books, or classification in public libraries.
27 out of the top 50 downloads in our department in the last calendar
year feature me (as a rough guide, I get about 1/3 of the entire
downloads for my department). My stuff isn't better than my colleagues'
work. They're all doing wonderful things! But I'm just the only one
actively promoting access to my research papers. If
you tell people about your research, they look at it. Your research
will get looked at more than papers which are not promoted via social

Some obvious points and conclusions. Don't tweet
things at midnight, you'll get half the click throughs you get through
the day when people are online. Don't tweet important things on a
Friday, especially not late - people do take weekends and you can see a
clear drop off in downloads when the weekend rolls around and your paper
falls a bit flat, as you sent it on its way on social media at the
wrong time. The best time is between 11am and 5pm GMT, Monday to
Thursday in a working week. I have the stats here somewhere to prove it.
I wont write it up, though, as its pretty predictable (you would think!
But somehow the message doesn't get through to people that just putting
it on twitter isnt enough, you have to time it right. The Discovery twitter account
regularly posts an automated list of the really interesting things
people have been looking at... at 10pm on a Friday night. Sheesh. I only
know as I'm regularly sad enough to still be on twitter at that time,
but I suspect if they tweeted the papers through the day during the
working week... well, you guess what would happen?)

The paper that really flew - Digital Curiosities - has now been downloaded over a thousand times in the past year. It was the 16th most downloaded paper from our entire institutional repository in the final quarter of 2011,
and the 3rd most downloaded paper in UCL's entire Arts Faculty in the
past year. It's all relative really - what does this really mean? Well, I
can tell you that this paper was the most downloaded paper in 2011 in
LLC Journal, where it was published (and where it lives behind a paywall
apart from being available free from Discovery). LLC is the most
prestigious journal in the discipline I operate in, Digital Humanities.
The entire download count for this paper from LLC itself, which made it
top paper last year? 376 full text downloads. There have been almost 3
times that number of downloads from our institutional repository. What
does this mean? What can we extrapolate from this? I think its fair to
say: It's a really good thing to make your work open access. More people will read it than if it is behind a paywall. Even if it is the most downloaded paper from a journal in your field, Open Access makes it even more accessed.

I might just have written a nice paper that caught people's interest:
there are, after all, no controls to this are there? No controls! How
can we tell if papers would fly without this type of exposure? Well.
Erm. I might not have have tweeted one or two papers to see the
difference between tweeting and blogging about papers and not doing so.
Take the LAIRAH (Log Analysis of Internet Resources in the Arts and
Humanities) project, which I wrote about here.
We actually published four papers from this research. I tweeted and
promoted three of them actively. One I didnt mention to you. Here are
the download counts. Guess which one I didnt circulate?
Library and information resources and users of digital resources in the humanities: 297 downloads
Documentation and the users of digital resources in the humanities: 209 downloads
You Build It Will They Come? The LAIRAH Study: Quantifying the Use of
Online Resources in the Arts and Humanities through Statistical
Analysis of User Log Data.
The Master Builders: LAIRAH Research on Good Practice in the Construction of Digital Humanities Projects: 12 downloads.
papers that were tweeted and blogged had at least more than 11 times
the number of downloads than their sibling paper which was left to its
own devices in the institutional repository. QED, my friends. QED.

cant know if the downloaded papers are read though, can I? The only way
to do so is to enter the murky world of citation analysis. The trouble
with this is the proof of the pudding will come to light in a few years
time - if someone reads something of mine now and decides to cite it,
its going to take 1 or even 2 years - or more - for it to appear in my
citation list. So, I'll be keeping an eye on things, not too seriously
as we all know things like H index are problematic. Just for the record,
at time of writing, I have 218 citations, according to Google scholar.
My H index is 8, and my i10 index is 5, which is ok for a relatively
young Humanities scholar (I'm still technically an Early Career
Researcher for another year, as defined by the UK funding councils).
Digital Curiosities only has 3 published citations to date. 3 published
citations. Remember, it's been downloaded over 1300 times, between LLC
and our repository. Will this citation count grow? Will I be able to
demonstrate, over the next few years, that retweeting leads to citation?
Will I be able to tell how people came across my research - if they come across my research? We'll see. Dont worry, I'll blog it if I have anything to say on this.

also know nothing about how many times my other papers are downloaded
from the websites of published journals, or consulted in print in the
Library. The latter, no-one can really say about - but the former? It
seems strange to me that we write articles (without being paid) and we
get them published by people who make a profit on them, then we don't
even know - usually - how many downloads they are getting from the
journals themselves. The only reason I know about the LLC statistics is
because I am good friends with the Editor.
So, there are obvious advantages to being able to monitor my own
downloads from my institutional repository. Its been a surprise to me to
see what papers of mine are of interest to others. (Should that drive
my research direction, though?)

The final point to make is that
people don't just follow me or read my blog to download my research
papers. This has only been part of what I do online - I have more than
2000 followers on twitter now and it has taken me over 3 years of
regular engagement - hanging out and chatting, pointing to interesting
stuff, repointing to interesting stuff, asking questions, answering
questions, getting stroppy, sending supportive comments, etc - to build
up an "audience" (I'd actually call a lot of you friends!) If all I was
doing was pumping out links to my published stuff would you still be
reading this? Would you have read this? Would you keep reading? My blog
is similar: sure, I've talked about my research, but I also post a
variety of other content, some silly, some serious, as part of my
academic work. I suspect this little experiment only worked as I already
had a "digital presence" whatever that may mean. Thanks for putting up
with me. All these numbers, these stats. Those clicks were made by real
people. Thanks!

So that would be my conclusion, really. If
you want people to find and read your research, build up a digital
presence in your discipline, and use it to promote your work when you
have something interesting to share.
It's pretty darn obvious, really:

If (social media interaction is often) then (Open access + social media = increased downloads).

next? From now on, I will definitely post anything I publish straight
into our institutional repository, and blog and tweet it straight away.
After all, the time it takes to undertake research, and write research
papers, and see them through to publication is large: the time is takes
to blog or tweet about them is negligible. This has been a
retrospective journey for me, through my past research, at a time when I
came back from a period of leave.
It's been fun to get my act together like this - in general I needed to
sort out my online systems at UCL, so it gave me some impetus to do so.
But it has shown me that making your research available puts it out
there - and as soon as I have something new to show you, you'll be the
first to know.

And here are a list of my personal top downloaded
items from our repository, with download count since October, when I
started this. Just for your eyes only, you understand.
Terras, M (2009) Digital Curiosities: Resource Creation Via Amateur Digitisation. Literary and Linguistic Computing , 25 (4) 425 - 438.
Ross, C and Terras, M and Warwick, C and Welsh, A (2011) Enabled backchannel: conference Twitter use by digital humanists. J DOC , 67 (2) 214 - 237. 448
Warwick, C. and Terras, M. and Galina, I. and Huntington, P. and Pappa, N. (2008) Library and information resources and users of digital resources in the humanities. Program: Electronic Library and Information Systems , 42 (1) pp. 5-27.

Terras, M (1999) A Virtual Tomb for Kelvingrove: Virtual Reality, Archaeology and Education. Internet Archaeology (7).253
Warwick, C and Galina, I and Rimmer, J and Terras, M and Blandford, A and Gow, J and Buchanan, G (2009) Documentation and the users of digital resources in the humanities. J DOC , 65 (1) 33 - 57.209
Terras, M and Van den Branden, R and Vanhoutte, E (2009) Teaching TEI: The Need for TEI by Example. Literary and Linguistic Computing , 24 (3) 297 - 306.
Terras, M (2010) Should we just send a copy? Digitisation, Use and Usefulness. Art Libraries Journal , 35 (1)193
Warwick, C and Terras, M and Huntington, P and Pappa, N (2008) If
You Build It Will They Come? The LAIRAH Study: Quantifying the Use of
Online Resources in the Arts and Humanities through Statistical
Analysis of User Log Data.
LIT LINGUIST COMPUT , 23 (1) 85 - 102.
Warwick, C. and Fisher, C. and Terras, M. and Baker, M. and Clarke, A. and Fulford, M. and Grove, M. and O'Riordan, E. and Rains, M. (2009) iTrench: a study of user reactions to the use of information technology in field archaeology. LIT LINGUIST COMPUT , 24 (2) pp. 211-223.


Melissa Terras' Blog: Is blogging and tweeting about research papers worth it? The Verdict

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