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Citing blogs in academic publications: lessons from urban planning in COVID

The word blog written in blue on a white background
Blog art. Shutterstock. www.shutterstock.com

Blogs are a double-edged sword. These online essays can be produced by anyone with access to a computer and the internet. The writers could be well-informed experts with valuable insights to share, or official government agencies. Some bloggers are outstanding academic authors who have published their work in accessible databases, like Scopus, Web of Science and Google Scholar. Others may be poorly informed people simply sharing a biased opinion.

Although readers might be able to comment on a blog, the material doesn’t have the status of peer-reviewed academic research. Checks for quality and reliability aren’t built into blog publishing as they are in academic journals. Previous research has discussed the role of blogging communities as reference sources in scientific manuscripts. The University of Cambridge has warned its researchers not to rely on them.

But some blogs still have appeal as sources of information and ideas for researchers because they often deal with new situations that haven’t yet been covered in the traditional academic literature.

The emergence of COVID was a perfect example of a new and fast-changing situation like this. Vast amounts of information were becoming available online — some of it in blogs that were reliable and useful to the public and to academics, some not.

Researchers and students need to know how to balance their data sources.

Little is known about how to identify reliable blog content in our field of study, urban planning. We decided to explore this, starting by looking at which kinds of blogs were already being cited by academics, and what criteria they were using to guide their choice of blogs.

We found the blogs cited in academic publications were mostly published by governmental and non-governmental organisations. We analysed the ways in which these blogs had influenced the public dialogue over COVID, and demonstrated that they were founded on unique ideas that had not yet undergone peer assessment.

We also came up with three tips that academics can use for citing blogs in their research.

Citing blogs about COVID-19

A lot of academics and researchers of city planning and design turned to blogs during the coronavirus outbreak for information. We conducted a scoping study in 2020, analysing 31 samples from four types of blogging sources cited in 10 publications published in seven journals. We looked at social sciences journals published in 2020 and searched for blogs that were used as references in such articles about COVID-19.

We found that in the year 2020, academics and researchers in urban planning and design used blogs produced by four types of publishers: government agencies, nongovernmental organisations, private groups, and individuals.

Moreover, we found that academics and researchers cited blogs for three reasons:

  • collecting quantitative data resulting from statistical analysis

  • shedding light on qualitative knowledge related to social solutions like social distancing and lockdown

  • confronting the challenges of pandemics through the principles of urban planning.

Criteria for citing blogs

This analysis was part of a wider study of the use of blogs by academics. Based on this work, we have three tips for finding blogs that publish scientific findings on vital topics like COVID-19 and can be cited in scholarly articles.

  1. It is possible for academics and researchers in urban planning and design to cite blogs in their scholarly works. This is done by selecting posts that provide relevant analysis, results and findings done by government agencies and nongovernmental organisations.

  2. For blogs written by individuals or private groups such as Brookings and CityLab, it crucial to keep track of bloggers in scientific databases, like the Web of Science, Scopus or Google Scholar. Several metrics can help to understand bloggers’ standing, including the number of citations, h-index, and normalised citation impact.

  3. Citing blogs can be based on the number of views or reviews, which can indicate the possibility of an open-ended debate about the post. However, it is important to remember that while blog views can seem important, they are not necessarily a reliable metric to cite blogs. Blog views reflect the importance of the topic rather than the reliability of the information provided in the blog.

By following these tips, academics and researchers can use blogs as reliable sources of information. They can be cited in scholarly publications for emerging issues such as COVID-19 in its early stages. These tips can guide academics and researchers when they tackle topics still under research or not covered in scientific studies.

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