Blog survey findings 5: why the audience reads blogs

(This is the fifth post in a series reporting topline results from the recent aid/development blog reader survey. Please go here for full results and other commentary.)

This was the most interesting question for me, so I saved it for last. We wanted to understand why people read blogs. There’s an open question of what you do with this information. Should a blogger try to write with an eye toward what’s important to readers? Maybe not. As I’ve said before, blogs are best when they focus on what the blogger her/himself is interested in and passionate about. But I’ll leave that decision to individual bloggers. Let’s get straight to the data.

Why the audience reads blogs (Q4)

We provided a list of 9 possible reasons, and asked respondents to rate each on a scale from 1 (“not at all important to me”) to 5 (“very important to me”). The result was a heavy preference for the more educational/intellectual/professional reasons, as compared to the more personal reasons. I’ll explain what I mean by that in a moment. The chart below shows the results, in rank order with the most important at the top.

why audience reads blogs_thumb[6]

You can see that respondents gave the highest marks to “reading analysis and opinion on aid/development”: 88% chose either 4 or 5 (very important) for that reason. The next four reasons also had high proportions choosing either 4 or 5: “following trends in the sector” (74%), “learning from others’ experience” (74%), “keeping up with recent research” (72%), and “getting news on current affairs” (67%). These are the options that I would group together as educational and intellectual.

Then there’s a visible drop to the reasons that I would classify as more personal and cathartic. At the top of this list was “reading satire and humor about the sector” (43%). There’s another drop to the final three reasons. I’m actually a bit surprised to see “finding career advice and jobs” do so poorly; this reason personal as well as professional. I expected this to be more important to most people. On the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised to see “hearing stories about living/travelling overseas” and “reading blogs written by people I know” at the bottom. These personal and cathartic reasons for reading blogs are important, but clearly there’s a larger audience for the intellectual/educational reasons.

Why the audience reads blogs – extended edition (Q5)

We also gave respondents an optional open-ended question to tell us whether there are other reasons they read blogs. We had 394 responses (23%). I haven’t been able to read or conduct any kind of rigorous analysis on them, but I skimmed through and pulled out a few interesting pieces. Here are a few highlights, grouped together by theme.

Professors and other teachers finding material for class:

  • “Excellent material for teaching! Much better than most texts I know. Which is not to say that it is a substitute for texts, far from it – but it certainly is a crucial, crucial complement!”
  • “Finding stories, anecdotes, and research notes that I can incorporate into the political development course I teach”
  • “I am assigned to read them professors in my pursuit of a graduate degree.” (sic)

Connection, fun and catharsis:

  • “I read international aid and development blogs for the solidarity it brings. I’m often by myself in my position in the field. It’s comforting to read other people say exactly (in much better words than I can) how I feel and what I’m thinking. It helps me analyze it all and occasionally helps me view things in a different light, but most of the time, it makes me feel like I’m sitting around having coffee with people who truly understand the experience I’m having. It makes me feel part of a community and not quite so alone.”
  • “General entertainment when living in a location (field) with very little of this”

Blogs are better than other sources:

  • “I generally trust news from an aid/development blogger more than one of the big media outlets or regular journalist.”
  • “I find them much more honest and challenging than most aid and development news stories”

And here’s one that I just thought was very nice:

  • “Development bloggers seem to be highly engaged with each other and the public online and it’s great to follow their work and discussions as a member of the public. Although my academic and professional interests are not directly in line with these writers, I have developed a keen interest in the field through their writing.”

Like I said, there are almost 400 of these. A few mention specific bloggers. I won’t list those here in order to avoid inflating egos too much, but suffice it to say that Chris Blattman has a bit of a fan club. Hopefully either I or another blogger will be able to put together an analysis of these 400 responses soon.

Lifting up from the weeds

These findings combine with the data on issues of interest to paint a picture of what our audience wants. On the whole, I think these results are a testament to the significance of the aid/development blogosphere. This is about more than some bored or frustrated aid workers looking for connection or catharsis after work (not that those aren’t important as well). These findings support the concept of the blogosphere as an epistemic community that seeks to build and disseminate knowledge — or at least, that’s what the audience wants it to be. I assume they must be finding that here, or else they wouldn’t be reading blogs so often.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, then you know that I like this idea of the blogosphere as epistemic community. It’s why I think you should read blogs and maybe even start your own blog. Of course, it’s possible that my own views are biasing my interpretation of the survey findings; differing opinions are always welcome.

With this idea of an epistemic community in mind, there may be gaps to fill and more development of the community needed. I’m hopeful that these findings will help us do that.


That’s it for the initial findings from the survey. You can see the full set here. I might do a wrap-up with some final thoughts soon, but I need to catch my breath first. I’ll also wait and see what others have to say. I’ve already emailed the dataset to two dozen or so people who have requested it. If you’d like it, please contact me: findwhatworks (at) gmail (dot) com.