Online Blogging; Net Result: Writing Skills May Improve

Article excerpt

Byline: Christian Toto, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Kevin Brancato is proud to say he writes like a blogger. The 26-year-old doctoral student at George Mason University says keeping up a "blog" - shorthand for a Web log - has only enhanced his writing skills.

Blogging may not wash with wizened educators, or those who distrust modern advances, but a group of educational experts sees blogging as a way for students to hone their writing skills while discussing ideas they otherwise may never have encountered.

Isn't that what education is supposed to be all about?

Blogs are the modern equivalent of a garden variety diary, but with an electronic, interactive twist. Postings are listed in chronological order and often include links to relevant Web sites or articles. People can sign up for their own blogs at sites such as www.blogspot.com for free. These sites allow visitors without any knowledge of computer programming start their own, updatable blogs in just a few minutes.

Mr. Brancato began his Web site, www.truckandbarter.com, a little over a year ago and keeps it up as much as his schedule allows.

"To me, the format wasn't the big draw. It was the interaction the format brought," says Mr. Brancato, whose blog mulls over everything from politics to economic theory.

"There's a definite diversity," he says of the online exchanges. "It's an opportunity to meet new people and new ideas. It's the people I don't know that are out there that I wouldn't have 'met' otherwise."

He made a list of some of the topics covered on his blog over the last year. The array of themes stunned him.

"I never would have examined anything with that detail just studying in a Ph.D. program," he says.

He says blogs also helped him refine his writing.

"It's one of the main reasons I started it," he says. "I didn't have very much time to practice writing essays."

Alex Tabarrok, an economics professor at George Mason University, says students blogging is fairly rare at this time. The professor says about one or two students in each of his classes, particularly at the graduate level, are involved in a blog of some sort. The very nature of blogging, Mr. Tabarrok adds, can be fleeting.

"Most don't last very long. People may have one for a little while and then drop it. If you don't get readers, you're writing for yourself," says Mr. Tabarrok, who runs his own blog at www.marginalrevolution.com with fellow GMU professor Tyler Cowen.

He says the best bloggers, like Andrew Sullivan (www.andrewsullivan.com) and Mickey Kaus (www.kausfiles.com), are first and foremost strong writers.

"You must be brief. You must get to the point," he says. "There are a lot of boring Web logs ... You learn pretty quickly if you wanna be read you better be interesting and timely."

Blogs also help students exchange ideas much like a group of students waxing poetic at a college coffeehouse. Blog sites often prominently display the e-mail address of its creators, letting readers instantly provide feedback to the site. Often, those responses are posted underneath the original posting, or incorporated into future posts by the blog author.

"Blogs become interesting when other people read them and comment on them. You get a dialogue going," he says. "You get a debate with very smart people from all different walks of life, lawyers and scientists, interesting people. …