With the abundance of information now available on the internet, one quick search for any topic can literally yield thousands of results; with some of those results existing only to generate profit, while others strive to provide extremely useful information for users. And among these useful information websites are not only encyclopedic-like portals but also blogs (or weblogs) that do a great job of providing helpful and credible information to visitors.
When considering whether or not a blog is appropriate for a research paper
, a few things need to be examined. (1) The nature of the assignment and its source requirements, (2) the usefulness of the data provided and (3) the reliability and credibility of the blog. With the last point being especially important because it leads to several discussions on the appropriateness of using blogs, and internet sources in general, for academic and professional publications.
Why all the fuss about blogs?
The blog type known as the personal blog, is likely to be the one thing that pushes off many students, researchers, and writers from utilizing blogs as reference points in writing. Possibly because the personal blog can be intriguing and engaging as well as horrifying and 'trashy' at times. Since many blog sites offer a free space where users are allowed to write their own personal thoughts and feelings on a topic (with little or no sound investigative efforts) the thought of using such sites as references can be very discouraging.
So if this is the situation of personal blogs, then what about other types of blogs?
Good question. Because many professional organizations and entities have well-maintained and regulated blog sites it's likely that students or researchers will run across some very helpful information on these types of blogs. In fact, many simple mirror other information sites but only with new and fresh content updated on the daily, weekly or monthly basis. These types of blogs should be highly considered when thinking of referencing blogs for a research paper. The other key issue to examine is, what dictates a reliable blog? Its clear that some are reliable and some are not-so how do you evaluate a blog? For this we can simply look to some basic guidelines for determining a reliable anything on the internet.
Reliability and the internet
At this point many educational institutions as well as publications are aware of and welcome the use of internet sources for both primary and secondary research data. Primary data involves first hand accounts of events or original documents such as manuscripts, artifacts, government records, newspaper articles etc. These documents can readily be accessed online through reputable organizations and are a definite means of gathering research data and providing supportive evidences. And credible secondary sources likewise can be accessed online through various journal publications, ebooks, and other academic or professional organizations.
Since it's been clearly established that the Internet is a reliable and proven source for research information, what then are the restrictions on this usage? This issue must be consulted as well when you think about the many unreliable, poorly constructed and falsified websites presented to students and researchers on the regular basis.
To better understand how to evaluate internet resources its good to think about imitation products. When you compare an imitation to an authentic piece in most cases the imitation is lacking with regards to craftsmanship and quality. Similarly websites that should be viewed cautiously are those that provide low quality content and, though they may appear nice, in reality are crafted for monetary purposes rather than informational purposes. *Though in some cases there are very helpful websites such as About.com that contain advertisements; so advertisements are not an automatic disclaimer.
A quick checklist for reliable internet sites and blogs
- Check the author's (or group of authors and or department) qualifications (Are they suitable to be writing about this topic?)
- Consider the purpose of the website/blog (What is their main objective? Who is the information written for and why?)
- Check to see if the scope of the information is suitable for your needs (For example, does the study cover the time period that you are interested in or is it limited in some ways? How old is the information you found?)
- Check the subjectivity of the site/blog (Is the explanation given on this site bias? Are there other more accurate descriptions available?)
Using blogs as sources in research papers
Many reputable organizations provide blogs that can quite easily fit the criteria for an ideal internet resource. Some examples are news organizations such as CNN or the NY Daily.
In essence, a blog in most situations, is simply an article that is positioned on a site which is frequently updated and in some cases covers only a specific category of topics, such as the Health and Lifestyle blogs that appear on ABCnews' website. When you look at it from this angle it is quite difficult to discredit blogs all together as a reputable source for a research paper.
The other issues to think about when defining the appropriateness of a blog is simply whether or not the information is suitable for your topic and meets the requirements of the paper.
Regardless whether you obtain information from a blog, a book, or any other means, you need to deem that the information you obtained is relevant and appropriate for your writing objective. This can be done by reviewing the posed research question as well as significant points addressed in the hypothesis or working thesis. Even if you find a blog to be interesting or related to your topic in some way, if it doesn't aide you in supporting your argument or gaining a better understanding of the topic, then it really shouldn't be used as as resource at all.
The nature of the research assignment and its requirements
Lastly, some assignments may require a different approach to obtaining information based on the topic that is being explored. Perhaps if dealing with a new and current topic such as organic eating and living then internet sites and blogs may be a great source of information. But on the other hand, if your topic involves more precise historical details, for instance, health care policy reforms as a result of WWII, blogs may not be your top choice.
And finally any student or researcher needs to carefully review the requirements of the research assignment
they are conducting. For students, some instructors may have a strong stance towards the internet and blogs in particular and therefore may rule out any use of blogs for referencing. This important issue needs to be carefully weighed against the other sources cited in the work (for example, you shouldn't have only blogs and websites for sources) along with the overwhelming benefit of the information contained in the blog.