Using blogs as sources

I’ve been musing about writing a post about following up tangents encountered during research which aren’t strictly relevant to the research project but are interesting and worthy of further attention; I might come back to that at some point. However, whilst musing about this my mind went off on a tangent (did you see what I did there?!) and I was reminded of an issue which came up during my PhD, namely the use of blogs as sources.

As part of my PhD I did a pretty extensive media review, concentrating on online newspapers and other mainline media (such as TV/radio station websites and local news agencies). I also came across a number of blogs which were relevant to my topic, but although I collected quite a lot of relevant blog posts I chose on that occasion not to include them in my final analysis – they were useful to give me a feel for the various views of people on the street, but I felt that the writers of a personal blog would not necessarily have any expectation that their blog would be used and quoted beyond the scope of the blog audience. On the other hand, I had no problem using the personal comments made under articles from online newspapers – it seemed to me that in a national more public forum like that people would feel differently about the use of their comments (they strike me as being in a similar vein to ‘letters to the Editor’) than they would a blog post or comment. In fact I even remember one comment on a TV station website discussion under the article which directly said “someone should collect these comments and write an article about it”!

However, I am now collecting data for a journal article I have wanted to write since I came back from my PhD fieldwork, which I used a bit in my PhD but nothing like to the extent that the amount of data could have merited (I think this is my link to my original musings about following up tangents), and as well as the extensive online newspaper, TV stations etc articles I am coming across a significant number of relevant blog posts which if I were to include them would, I think, make a significant contribution. I did read one article (a chapter by Shannon Woodcock in this book) which used a lot of blog posts as part of the analysis, and it seemed to make a lot of sense using them (I highly recommend the book, by the way, for anyone interested in issues around sexuality in central and eastern Europe).

So my questions are, how do you feel about using the personal blog posts of strangers as part of your data? Am I being over-cautious in limiting myself to online public newspapers etc? Have you come across any good sources arguing convincingly one way or the other? What would *you* do?

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3 responses to “Using blogs as sources

  1. I think (?) I used one blog post in my thesis. Tricky question. I think in my area of international business it would be frowned upon, whereas in my other (newer) area of corporate social responsibility and sustainability it might be more acceptable (as blogs would include other stakeholders that would otherwise not publish?).

  2. Thanks Sig. The area is important I think – one of the things that will be key to my article is the views of the population; it could probably be argued that I will get plenty of that from the comments under newspaper articles, but some of the blog posts are quite long and sophisticated and have a fair bit to add to the debate, in my opinion. I was thinking about this some more today; I suppose that if someone publishes a publicly available blog post and doesn’t place restrictions on who can find or view it, to an extent it is already beyond the author’s control. But I might just be trying to justify the practice of incorporating blogs to myself 🙂

  3. I don’t think you need to justify incorporating blogs that much if it’s about public opinion since this has become a big medium for voicing public opinion. And yes, once a blog post if publicly availble then it should be treated as publicly available information (unlike some journal articles!).

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