The Communicative Function of (Blog) Commenting

Diagram of blog comments


Photo by cambodia4kidsorg

Blogs are a pretty recent entry in the history of the written word, and a lot of people don’t quite know what to do with them. Our ancestors seem to have known that it would have been considered rude to pick up the paint or chisel to respond to their neighbors’ musings via cave painting or stone tablet. Books and magazines have been similarly non-interactive; it seems senseless to deface these writings with our thoughts- “Right On!”- when the author would never see our ball-point pen scrawlings. But here we are in a new age, that of the “Social Web,” and anyone who wants to put their writing out there can, and does! Why? Well, we all have different motives, but in the case of SLPs and other educators who blog, I believe it all boils down to sharing. I recently was at a conference, and a wonderful Massachusetts principal- who is so pro-sharing that he keeps his desk in the middle of his high school lobby- put it something like this (excuse my paraphrase if you should ever see it, @bhsprincipal): “It’s not that I think I know better than everyone else, it’s just that no one else is sharing.” That “no one” has thankfully gotten a bit inaccurate in the past year, with the blossoming numbers of SLPs who blog. And we are definitely seeing that you read, so THANK YOU.

However, because we are demanding little creatures, we SLPs, we have something else to ask you for: comments. Comments feed us! It’s really great to know that others have read and have thought about our writing, and, being in the same profession, have ideas to share back. This is why we choose blogging as a medium, rather than trying to track down a publisher: we don’t want it to be just a one-way conversation! So, we know it’s hard to break out of that mode of reading that dates back to “I better not write anything on Shakespeare’s Folio,” but now, really, we are asking you to write all over our posts. In addition to meeting bloggers’ seemingly insatiable need for attention, your comment will live on with that post, along with your expertise, and enhance the experience of all who read it!

See that little “LEAVE A COMMENT” link? Unfortunately, it means no one did. But I’m not asking you to feel bad for me. OK, I am a little. But also, I put that there so that first of all you know HOW to comment.

When you click there, you’ll see this, a similar form to what you would see on any blog:

ASHAsphere asks you to leave your (real) name and email address, though others can’t access that email through this blog (be careful on other blogs- I sometimes use a “spare” email address, like my yahoo account to make a comment on a blog I don’t often frequent). Should you feel bad if you leave the Website field blank? No. ASHA and other readers don’t care if you don’t have a website. So what to write in that “Comment” field? It’s up to you, but here are a few suggestions to spark your commenting:

  • “Add a Thought”- Michelle Garcia Winner posed this excellent explanation of what a comment is- it’s simply when we “add a thought” to what has already been said. In our literacy classrooms, this is described as “Making a Connection” to one’s own experience, and the best blog commenting uses this strategy. Yet another way to think of this type of comment relates to the positive momentum of improvisational performances, which use the rule of “Yes, And…” to keep the interaction going! We can think of our conversations, real or virtual, as following the same principle.
  • Feel free to disagree (but maybe not eviscerate)- My suggestion of “Yes, And…” as a guideline for commenting should not be interpreted as meaning that you should never disagree with a blogger, especially when his or her opinion is “out there.” However, I have seen some pretty harsh (in the case of YouTube and news websites, almost inhuman) comments written in social web outlets, and I know that we SLPs, as communication specialists, can avoid that pitfall. Using the sandwich technique is always helpful: site a positive you found in the post, then a negative, and end with a positive. Maybe you can’t find two positives? Make it an open-faced sandwich! In any case, we all know that the written word looks harsher because it is devoid of all our contextualizing nonverbal signals; so it’s best to remember that sharing is caring and give bloggers a little slack when disagreeing, eh?
  • Questions Welcome- Was there something you did not quite understand about the post or do you want to delve a little further into the topic? If the post described something new and techie, do you need help? Throw that up there in a comment! I always try my best to get back to people on questions, and though it might take us a few days, you should check back on the blog for an answer. In general, the blogger will leave a response there rather than bother you at your email address!

As a blogger, I know that one way to encourage comments is to end with a question. So: what has been your experience with professional discussions, commenting and questioning online? How have you seen it change, and how has it shaped your practice?

Sean J. Sweeney, M.S., M.Ed., CCC-SLP is a speech-language pathologist and instructional technology specialist working in the public schools and in private practice at The Ely Center in Newton, Massachusetts. He has presented on the topic of technology integration in speech and language at the ASHA convention and is the author of the blog SpeechTechie: Looking at Technology Through a Language Lens, which won the 2010 Best New Edublog Award.

Comments

  1. A well done primer on commenting…hopefully it spurs greater give-and-take on this site. (I think this comment falls in the category of “Add a thought”.)

  2. As a blogger I am very happy you took the time to write this Sean. Thanks!

  3. As a fellow SLP blogger, I have to say, this is an excellent post! I hear from many people that they read my blog – but I rarely get any feedback! I’ve also been on the receiving end of negative feedback, which I know I put myself out there when I blog, so it goes with the territory… but I like your “sandwich” technique as a better way to do it!

  4. Thanks Kenn and Barbara! Kenn, that definitely was an “add-a-thought” haha!

  5. Sean, thanks for blogging about commenting. I have to admit that people rarely comment on my blog and it often leaves me feeling as though I am talking to myself. On the other side of the coin, I don’t often take the time to comment on the blogs that I read. You have given me some food for thought and maybe the push I needed to comment more often.

  6. Ashley Carnes says:

    I would just like to re-affirm SLP blogs in general. As a new SLP, I love that I can continue learning and hearing about different areas right in my iGoogle/googleReader home page! The more (comments/sharing), the merrier!

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