Academic staff routinely advise students against citing blogs in their essays. This can be a problem for students as Google and other search engines often return results for blogs and for other ‘grey literature’ above results for peer-reviewed articles unless the search is for the title of a specific article. However, even the best blogs cannot be considered ‘peer-reviewed literature ‘. There are some well-written and rigorous academic blogs in which the author discusses and cites academic literature; Professor Dorothy Bishop’s blog “BishopBlog” is an example. Any reader who wishes to check Professor Bishop’s sources can do so as everything is formally referenced. I would have no objection to my students citing this type of blog as long as they demonstrate understanding that the blog is the author’s personal opinion rather than an academic study.
The issue of citing blogs becomes more difficult for students when a blog claims to be research-informed but without citing sources. For example, I recently stumbled across a post on a parenting blog which discussed media use for very young children (http://prebabyblog.com/2013/09/tv-technology-media-iphones-toddlers-oh-my). This would be highly relevant for students on the module I teach called “Children in the Digital Age”, especially as the author asks the question, “So what is the truth behind AAP’s statement? What ARE we supposed to do and what does the research show?”* The author goes on to list several points that are supposedly research findings before coming to the conclusion that research demonstrates both benefits and drawbacks to media use so it is up to parents to make their own decisions. So far, so good. The author mentions several studies so all that the interested reader or student should need to do is to read the original studies and evaluate the arguments. However, at the end of the piece where a reader might expect to find a reference list, is this statement: “I will not cite studies I mentioned here. It’s not my job to do that. I am simply sharing what I know and believe in. It’s up to you to either take my word for it, or go and do your own research.” This is the problem for students. If the resarch has not been cited then, as far as the academic world is concerned, the research has not been read. Even though the blog post claims to be based on research, it would not be acceptable to cite in it in a university assignment.
When reading blogs, students have to ask “how do I trust what this person says? ” With peer reviewed articles, that judgement has been made by academics during the review process. With blogs, however, students are on their own and so need to evaluate claims carefully and look for correctly cited supporting evidence. It isn’t always easy!
* The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) “discourages media use by children younger than 2 years” (AAP, 2011 p1043)
AAP (2011) “Policy Statement: Media Use by Children Younger Than 2 Years” Pediatrics Vol. 128 No. 5 November 1, 2011 pp. 1040 -1045 (doi: 10.1542/peds.2011-1753)