Footnoting Blogs in Academic Publications

Footnoting Blogs in Academic Publications July 31, 2015

Christopher Skinner asked a really great question on the Crux Sola blog: Do online resources belong in academic footnotes.

Chris offers a qualified “no.” I would suggest a qualified “yes” instead.

Several people who responded to the question rightly pointed out that even the best blog posts are more like conference papers than articles – not the fully fleshed-out or complete and polished arguments and ideas scholars traditionally publish in print, but the draft versions we share at conferences and in other venues, precisely with the aim of getting feedback and improving the final version.

Now, scholars have always cited other scholars’ papers when they were aware of them and a final version in print was not available. And so the point here is less that they should not be included – indeed, if you have read it and been influenced by it, you must cite it, even if it is on a blog. The point here is that conference papers and blog posts ought to be things we settle for citing, because the author’s final version is not yet available.

And if in some cases a blog post is like a conference paper, in others it is more akin to the napkin at a pub on which another academic sketched out her idea and showed it to you. In that case, you can still cite. The question here is whether one should still ask permission before doing so. In the case of the napkin, it was shared privately and so asking permission before publicizing is crucial. But what if the napkin is online for the entire world to see?

It is also true that the distinction I’ve made above, between blog posts and articles, is not an absolute one. I will be speaking at an upcoming conference about the role of blogs in the investigation of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife, in which we saw not only blog posts, but pdfs of articles which had not been previously published, nor was it clear whether they were drafts of articles intended for final publication elsewhere. Surely citing such articles in a print book or article on that subject would be appropriate?

And so I think the answer to Chris’ question is absolutely “yes” – especially since the question itself is about online and not just blog resources, and many articles and books are online these days. The qualification of my “yes” has nothing whatsoever to do with the online aspect, and only to do with the character of some of the online materials in question. Whenever possible, scholars should be interacting with the final published version of another scholar’s work – wherever that happens to be found in our digital online era.

How would you answer Chris’ question? Click through and see what others wrote on his blog, as well as chiming in here.

Let me conclude with a couple of cartoons of relevance, both of which come from a post on the blog Fresh Spectrum:

making a blog more academic paper published JSTOR

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  • Shiphrah99

    The Jewish answer is absolutely yes. Not giving attribution, no matter the source, is a form of theft. It’s an early version of intellectual property law.

    • Erp

      I suspect the matter is more should one use online sources to support (or oppose) an argument in an academic paper and I think that very much depends on the source. Some online sources are peer reviewed by fellow academics. Some are resources that are informally peer reviewed by being accepted by other scholars (e.g., the Founder’s Online as being an accurate collection). Then there are blogs by experts in the field and further down blogs by those not competent in the field (the last cited only rarely, e.g., while reading XYZ’s blog (cite info) I realized that we weren’t getting through to the general public).

      One person did say he wanted page numbers for his sources. Perhaps we’ll be going back to an older fashion of chapter/section/paragraph and possibly even sentence citations with some online sources.

  • robert r. cargill

    I’ve cited blog posts in academic (non-DH) articles. This is not only because more scholars are posting preliminary ideas and initial responses on blogs (like scientists do on the arXiv), but because most academics realize that *some* important academic contributions are made on *some* blogs. Not all blogs and blog posts are the same. And when a scholar makes a contribution that contributes to a publication, and especially if a portion of their post is quoted, it is not only appropriate, but required that scholars cite the blogs on which they are found.