This following piece appeared on this day on the blog of the now defunct Blog Catalog.. At the time the site was a hybrid blog portal–social networking site with an active community. I pulled it from the Wayback Machine and preserved those links so that they can still work.
Too often I come across an interesting piece of information on a blog that does not contain links to the author’s sources. That’s too bad. All I can do at that point is shrug my shoulders and wonder if the story is true. Then I’ll probably close that browser tab and go somewhere else, because I won’t risk experiencing similar frustration with a second story on the same blog. Of course, if the story is really important to me, I can do further research on Google, which is fair enough. At the same time, though, what reason have you given me to go back to your blog? None. Offer me a good, well sourced post, though, and I will be back.
Links to your sources are important for at least four reasons:
- Verifiability. Links to your sources allow me to verify whether or not your story is true. For this to work, though, they should point to hard news sources, not just another blog. Bobbie Sullivan does this on Aircrew Buzz and her other aviation blogs.
- Acknowledgment. Sources permit you to acknowledge where you got your ideas and information from in the first place. These can include not only hard news sources, but also any blog or other source that sparked you to think about the topic. If the information is not generally known, though, include additional sources to satisfy the verifiability requirement. I sometimes handle acknowledgments with a hat tip. You can see one Gavin Robinson gave me in the first paragraph of the 14th Military History Carnival.
- Examples. Sources can help provide you with the kinds of examples you need to support your arguments. Since the internet is a hypertext environment, sources can also help you to pack more information into a post without providing loads of background details. I used links in this manner in the second paragraph of a post about generational differences between Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright. I’m also linking examples in this post about sources.
- Context. Sources help locate your ideas within their broader context. By providing links to that context, you help your reader to understand how your ideas relate to other opinions and discussions on the internet, and on your own blog. In the process you provide additional value to your reader, giving her one more reason to return. One blogger who often provides good context through linked sources is Rich Becker of Copywrite. Ink.
Of course, not all blog posts need sources. If you are writing about your own life, you are the acknowledged expert on it. Enough said. And no one who has heard Tony Hogan’s music is going to ask him to provide sources for the advice he offers on learning the guitar. It helps, though, that he has a good about page on his blog, which tells us a bit more about him. And what about me? Why do I think I can offer this advice without providing sources on the art of sourcing? My field is history, and getting students to understand the value of sources is one of my everyday teaching concerns. Yes, I could be making this up, but you can find out more about me at Clio and Me.