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Intentional Web: Purposeful Use of Web Resources for Academic Research: Blogs

The guide seeks to help students and other researchers use web-based resources with thoughtfulness and discernment.

Blogs

Blogs, of course, are simple web logs, usually structured around a single page, where the most recent content appears at the top and older content is retained below.  Blogs may be associated with a single individual or an entity, but even corporate blogs are often maintained by just a small number of active bloggers, and, therefore, often reflect the individual personalities of their creator(s). 

Because blogs are informal and personal web documents, they should be understood as such and not confused with peer-reviewed or even editorially-managed articles (web-based or otherwise).  While a few blogs are beginning to experiment with more formal editorial structures (see below, for example), even the best blogs should be considered more along the lines of traditional op-ed columns in newspapers -- smart and informed, perhaps, but opinion-based nevertheless. 

The great benefit of blogs, however, resides elsewhere -- not in their scholarly authority but in their discursive nature, soliciting comments and responses from other readers in the blogosphere.  In this sense, blogs may offer insight into on-going areas of discussion, debate, or controversy in a particular area or discipline, and staying current with a reputable blog is one way for a researcher to maintain daily contact with their field of study.

Below, as examples, are links to two discipline-based blogs -- one on information literacy maintained by Professor Sheila Webber at the University of Sheffield, and another on gender, race, and philosophy that grew out of a symposium of the same name and is now maintained by an editorial board of scholars in the field, including Robert Gooding-Williams, Sally Haslanger, Ronald Sundstrom, Cynthia Willett, and Alia Al-Saji.

A Brief Reminder on Evaluation

Remember that when evaluating any web resource, it’s best to consider these key points and questions…

  • Author – Does the author have expertise or specialized training in the field?
  • Sponsoring Institution – Is the site funded by some larger entity?  What’s their role and/or agenda in determining content?
  • Date – Is the site regularly maintained and updated? Is it timely?
  • Intended Audience – Who is the site aimed at?  Other experts or a generalized audience?
  • Tone – Does the site seem to be inclusive or tolerant of dissenting viewpoints?
  • Bias – Granting that most websites and blogs will have a distinct point of view, is this site unduly biased?  Is it propagandizing or proselytizing?

Bottom Line

There are many different sorts of resources on the web, and they all can play a useful role in a paper or presentation – as an information source, as a measure of popular perception, or, perhaps, as a straw-man.  The key to successful integration of these resources is to understand what they are, what they aren’t, and what they can do for you.

Blogs

Blog Finders

There are available a few fairly useful search engines and directories on the web that attempt to index the blogosphere -- Technorati and Google Blog Search are among them.  These can be useful for finding blogs in particular areas of interest.  As an aside, some proprietorial databases are also attempting to index blogs in specific areas.  Lexis-Nexis, for instance, offers an option to search information and news-based blogs.

Be forewarned, however, that a blog’s presence in a directory or results list in no way speaks to its reliability, authority, or knowledgeableness.  A savvy researcher will seek out and evaluate useful blogs in the much the same way that they’d evaluate a book, an article, or any other web resource.

"Tea Blog," Ellie Harrison, 2008