Recently, I was explaining how bloggers reference sources and was asked, “If acknowledging the original contributor is important, why don’t bloggers use citations like we all had to do in high school and college?”
That’s a good question, isn’t it? When blogging was born, all of kinds of citation options existed – APA, MLA, Chicago, etc. If bloggers value acknowledging original sources, why not adopt the already established techniques?
Why do citations even matter?
Before we go too far, let’s talk about why citations are important. I like to discuss this with my students because it’s helpful to understand why something is important – especially if the task is even a little bit annoying. I’ve found that many students have never considered why citations are used. They’ve just always been a requirement, so they dutifully followed directions. But here are two ways they add value for you as the writer.
Citations demonstrate your ability to synthesize data and add your own thoughts.
Often times writers are using citations in response to a question or some kind of writing prompt. Because of this, the temptation (unless required to cite a source) is to simply speak about your own thoughts or experiences. For example, if you were asked to describe why you believe effective altruism is or isn’t a good idea, you could write for days about your personal opinion. And it might (might) be persuasive, but without references to external readings and how you interpreted materials you’ve read, it’s really just your opinion. For all the reader knows, it isn’t based on any kind of research or valid information. Integrating the work of others demonstrates your commitment to the topic and adds validity to your contribution.
Giving credit where credit is due is always a good idea.
Have you ever created or contributed to something only to have your additions go unrecognized? If you haven’t yet, you likely will in your lifetime. Even when it’s an innocent mistake, it’s a really difficult situation. We are all responsible for assigning credit appropriately to the extent we can. If you found your answer in a book, were inspired by an article, or are using the work of another person to solidify your point, the creator of that piece deserves to be recognized. And you, by the way, look that much more professional for doing so. You’ll also be amazed how positively people view the people who give credit honestly. Making the effort to acknowledge the contributions of others is often noticed – by the original contributors or by others reading your materials.
Why don’t bloggers typically use formal citations?
Bloggers often have the same interests as people writing academic papers. They want to appear credible. They (usually) want to give appropriate credit. Why don’t more use formal citations?
They are cumbersome.
It’s hard for me to admit this because I spend so much time telling my students citing sources isn’t that hard, but academic citation styles are nitpicky and a little annoying. Especially if you aren’t required to, it would be very tempting to find another way to give credit.
Bloggers may not have been exposed to different kinds of citations.
One of the most amazing things about blogging in general is that anyone can do it. (This, of course, also invites a whole other set of challenges, but that’s for another post!) Pulling from such a wide range of experiences, there’s a good chance that a blogger never had a need to learn about academic citations in their personal or professional life. They wouldn’t be able to use what they never learned.
There’s no one enforcing the practice.
Quite simply, it’s human nature to only do as much as we have to. If you don’t use proper citations in an academic paper, it probably hurts your grade. If you don’t use a citation in a blog post, it’s unlikely anyone will notice. (That being said, the FTC will investigate claims of copyright infringement or other intellectual property violations, so don’t skip referencing a source – even if you don’t follow one of the formal approaches.)
There’s a better way.
I saved the best for last – the real reason I think we don’t see academic citations in blog posts. Blogs are found online and, more often than not, they reference the source of their materials through links. What better way to tell someone about the original source of your information than with a direct link?
Do bloggers have to cite sources?
The short answer is yes – and you should want to. If nothing else, citing sources demonstrates that you are a professional. It’s also a great way to connect with other writers and content creators. And your readers can easily access more information about a topic as needed.
Plus, taking the time to give credit to people and organizations who have helped you craft the amazing content you’re sharing is a great way to support professionalism within our industry!
Author: Dr. Amy Jauman
Dr. Amy Jauman, SMS, is the Chief Learning Officer at the National Institute for Social Media and author of the Comprehensive Field Guide for Social Media Strategists. Amy is also one of 58 members representing 12 countries in the inaugural class of the Prezi Educator Society. Previously she was the Social Media Director for Women Entrepreneurs of Minnesota (WeMN) and she currently serves as the marketing director for the Minnesota Chapter of the National Speakers Association. She is also an adjunct professor in the St. Catherine University Business Department and the St. Mary’s University of Minnesota MBA program.