Monthly Archives: March 2013

Thoughts on chapter 7 again: primarily informative functional patterns

I’ve been working on chapter 7 of my thesis (textual functions of Personal Weblogs) for the last week and a half. Work is going well, even though I’m a bit worried about my time management and the amount of space this chapter will probably occupy in the end.

So far, I have finished a research review, the methodology and some  functions. As I have pointed out in this post, I basically present ethnocategories such as update, filter, or sharing experience and the linguistic descriptions of postings that belong in each category. Thus, I hope to blend the benefits of ethnographic studies (such as Nardi et al. 2004a and 2004b, Reed 2005, Brake 2007, Baumer et al. 2008) and detailed linguistic analysis. The advantage of combining two methodologies (apart from gaining a clearer insight into what actually characterises the different functions, i.e., how they are actually realised in Personal Weblogs) lies, in my opinion, in the opportunity of generating functional categories on the basis of linguistic analysis which are not mentioned explicitely / only vaguely by bloggers or by ethnographic studies, respectively. In order to be able to present categories without ethnographic counterpart (and for reasons of legibility), I have decided on presenting the functions arranged in the following groups (inspired by Brinker’s works):

  1. primarily informative functions
  2. primarily appellative functions
  3. primarily contact-oriented functions
  4. functions focussed on benefits of the writing process

I am currently working on informative functions. The chapter is structured like this:

  1. filter
  2. update
  3. sharing experience
  4. further primarily informative functions

Subchapter 4 is what I am currently focussed on. It is not as easy and clear-cut as the first three subchapters. I think, it should include the following functional patterns:

  • informing about external topics (cf. Puschmann 2009, 2010)
  • voicing opinions
  • review
  • giving advice

Today, I have covered the first point. I have discovered that it includes actually two patterns: First of all, postings that mimic a newspaper-like style and seem to belong into the category “journalistic blogging”. Secondly, postings aimed at some kind of knowledge transfer from experts to interested laypeople. I am not sure whether I should seperate these patterns, but I guess – as the postings of these groups look quite differently and the functions “providing the latest news” vs. “transferring expert knowledge in an understandable way” are distinct enough to treat them as different patterns.

While writing this, I realised that the function “knowledge transfer” is quite close to “giving advice” as the latter is some kind of knowledge transfer with the special twist of providing instructions. “Giving advice” also exhibits certain overlaps with “sharing experience” as the advice given in Personal Weblogs is often nothing else than knowledge gained by experience. I think, I should explicitely state these overlaps and use them for smoothely guiding the reader through the subchapter….

Tomorrow, I will make sure to split the first category of the subchapter (informing about external topics) into the two subcategories just mentioned. From there, I will continue with “giving advice” in order to provide a smooth transition. What a plan!

Outlook: I am still thinking about the quantification part of the chapter. How does a correlation study work? My idea is to create variables for each function in SPSS to be able to state for each weblog whether the specific function could be detected. I would like to use these variables for some sort of correlation to answer the question of which functions do usually co-occur in weblogs and whether functional clusters can be detected. I will give this some more thought and come back to it in the next post.


Thoughts about: micro genres of postings

I’m currently working on chapter 7 of my thesis (textual functions of Personal Weblogs). I have identified several functional ethnocategories such as filter, update, sharing experience, review and so on. Additionally, I have employd theoretical codes to capture functional patterns not explicitally termed by the community (e.g. several contact functions; appellative patterns etc.).

Even before the last conference, a thought struck me: Actually, what I’m doing now is a description of posting genres. Each functional pattern can be differentiated from others by structural, functional and contextual features. The one and only layer which remains constant is the form of communication. So we can say that stable patterns / genres of postings have been established within the blogging community. The Personal Weblog as ethnocatgorial genre picks from those posting genres and thus establishes a functional set.

Another argument for the status of micro genres is the following: Working on the filter function, I realized that there are several ways of carrying out realising the filter function. A neutral, matter-of-fact way (note to self: include PeterMe Perfect from period I in analysis!!!), a more author-centric way and a humorous way which plays with the established patterns. Therefore, we can assume that the posting genres each have a certain scope of variability. Variation  is a central characteristic of genres (cf. Brock 2009, Giltrow & Stein 2009, Lemke 1999, Santini et al. 2011, Swales 1990 etc etc.) So is we can establish several sub-patterns for the micro genres or at least describe a range of variation, this, too, is a good indicator, in my opinion, for their genre status…

Two conferences in three weeks…

The last three weeks were quite exhausting, exciting and in general a thrilling experience for me as a doctoral student.

In February, I had the opportunity of presenting my diachronic corpus of Personal Weblogs to an audience of media linguists and communication scientists on the conference of the DGPuK section “Mediensprache”. The focus of the talk was my methodology of collecting corpus candidates and selecting those that were added to the corpus. I also presented some ideas about the use of images in Personal Weblogs. The slides and the manuscript of the talk can be found on the “publication”-page.

The feedback was quite positive. Michael Klemm suggested conducting interviews, especially concerning the question of media selection – the choice between a weblog, facebook, twitter and other forms of communication. I am thinking about this suggestion; probably I won’t have the time and space to include that in my doctoral thesis. I guess I should focus on the material I have gained from analysing the metablogging in my corpus texts. However, it might be a good idea to mention the idea of conducting interviews as matter of further research in my conclusion-section.

Another comment concerned the size of my corpus, in particular the 80 texts in period II.C. I should be aware that people will always ask why there is a particular number of texts, why not more, why not less. I am thinking of extending the corpus to 100 texts per period in part II. This entails a lot of work; however, according to my estimation formula (I use Raithels (2008: 62) formula n>=10*K^v with K being the number of features per variable and v being the number) 100 texts are a safe number to work with as all my variables do not have more than 8-ish different features and my study does not need to look at more than 2 variables simultaneously. Be that as it may, I find this insisting on numbers a bit frustrating. I mean, I DO have 80 texts per period II.B and II.C and even 93 for period II.A. And I DO work with a sheer flood of examples from those texts – so why is that not enough to describe some patterns and their change(s)?

Another, very interesting suggestion was that of a connection between media development and topics – never thought about the fact that fashion blogs came into existence because of the ease of embedding images! Thanks to Christof Barth (Trier University) for that idea!

My second talk was last weekend (14th NLK) and dealt with the textual functions of the Personal Weblogs in DIABLOK. I presented my methodology – a combination of Grounded Theory-style content analysis (Glaser & Holton 2004; Mayring 2010) and linguistic analysis à la Klaus Brinker (1983, 2000, 2010). I basically work with ethnocategories here – so I try to find out what bloggers say they do functionwise and analyse these functional patterns linguistically. I suggested functional patterns called Update, Filter, and Sharing Experience.

My mentor Alexander Brock, who was also present at the conference, was not quite content with the names of the functional patterns, especially regarding the Update-function. I am not sure whether I get him right: His point is that “Update” actually only concerns a special kind of information structure, a ratio of new and old information. In my opinion, “Update” is a functional pattern that the blogging community has termed like that and which can be recognized by structural, contextual and functional features (see my slides for examples).

Our compromise, however (even though it might be the result of a misunderstanding) is quite a useful one: My mentor suggested not to present all the ethnocategories as seperate sub chapters but rather group them according to their dominating functional component. So there will be sub chapters on informational, appellative, and contact functions as well as on production-oriented functions (thinking by writing, releasing emotional tension, creative expression).

Apart from that, I got a highly interesting comment about the DarkNet with its utter anonymity and a possible comparison of my Personal Weblogs with the textual patterns to be found there. Thank you, Marco, for that – I will definitely follow this trace some day!