Citing vs anonymizing blogs in research

As many of you know, I’m both a blogger and an academic. I’m looking at doing my research on breast cancer blogs. As a result, I’m reading a lot of academic literature surrounding illness blogs in general, and breast cancer blogs specifically. There is a practice within some research communities to anonymize blog text – that is, to quote it but not attribute it to the blogger or provide a link to the blog. In other communities blogs are considered publications like any other publication and the text is attributed as such.

I’m wondering what other breast cancer bloggers think of the various practices? If a researcher wanted to use your blog for a study would you like to know about it? Would you like to contribute in some way? Would you like any quotes to link back to your blog, or would you be OK with your quotes being attributed as “one blogger says” without your name?

I’m preparing a letter to the editor / commentary on the various practices in the literature, and I would really like to understand what other bloggers think of the practices, so that I am not injecting just my opinions on the matter.

Please note that any responses to the post in the comments may be used for the letter / commentary, and that if I chose to use your quote I will contact you via the email you provide to get your permission.

  • Becky


  • First, anything posted on the Web, whether it be an article, blog, or anything else, is considered to be a published work. Here’s an example for poetry, as stated in Writer’s Digest:

    “Please be aware that if you post a poem in the comments here, it is now published. It’s not a legitimate publishing credit that you can use; however, where the poem is concerned, you’ve just blown its ‘unpublished’ status. That means you can’t submit it to journals that don’t consider published material, and you can’t submit it to contests for unpublished poetry only.” Source:

    (Note that while the column byline is “Robert Lee Brewer,” the actual author of that particular post is “Nancy,” whose last name is not given; I can’t remember it offhand. She used to write this column and deserves a full byline. As an aside, the link to “Update 2” on the subject of public readings (in which I had weighed in) is broken, but that info can be found at

    Style guidelines for citing websites have been established by the APA, AMA, Chicago, MLA, and Turabian/Harvard. Source:

    Even unpublished materials and online conferences or presentations merit citations. Guidelines are given in the Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library Blog:

    The MLA also provides guidelines for citing blog posts, which speaks to the exact nature of this issue:

    A blog is a published work, subject to already-established citation guidelines. There is no excuse whatsoever for anonymizing a blog post in a citation. It should be properly cited like anything else. Even tweets (a.k.a. microblogs) have established citation guidelines (Source:

    Becky, you have my advance permission to quote with attribution from this comment (which is considered “published” as soon as it becomes publicly available). Thank you for tackling this issue.

    • Memory finally kicked in — the original author of the “Published is Published!” article is Nancy Breen.

    • Ya in some academic spheres blogs are really considered a form a grey literature. They are not legitimatized and as such they are not always treated as “published”. It means that in some cases you can (as an author) re-publish parts of your blog in articles without being told you are self-plagiarizing – which is another really grey area. In some social media circles and some academic spaces there seems to be a mix of how blogs are handled. It is in part why I am asking the question. I really want to hear what bloggers think – is it a publication and therefore should be cited when direct quoted? APA has clear guidelines that say yes, blogs are just another published source of data. But when the blogs are health related (like breast cancer blogs) academics have been known to cite “privacy” as a reason to not cite … they may be well intentioned but I’m not sure bloggers want “privacy” … otherwise they would have password protected journals.

  • I guess I’ve been coming at this from an “indivisible labor” perspective (Lucy Suchman, holla). Even if the blog is publicly available and the writer has chosen to identify themselves online, as researchers, I think we need to acknowledge the “labor” that has gone into the data by the time we encounter them. The act of engaging with the medical system, and turning those interactions into writing, is unpaid work in a way. There’s a lot of literature (I think) about how the time of patients with chronic conditions is considered invisible or or low value by medical systems. In order to ethically engage with patient blogs, I think we need to be conscious of that in making decisions about citing or anonymizing and perhaps consider the bloggers as more active collaborators rather than data sources.

    • JF, you bring up a really good and important point about the invisible labor. I remember in the early days thinking that there was a huge lost opportunity in using critical ill patients as resources but now I think otherwise, as I see too much where people take advantage of patients. A lot of committees and such invite patients so they have the patient voice, but the only one in the room who isn’t paid to be in the room is the patient. It is all rather unfair. I also think that you might be touching on why I feel the need to bring the blogger voice to the table – because researchers are making assumptions about what bloggers want, without really understanding how the community works. So I want to help bring bloggers to the table or at least help them get a say in how their blogs are used by various researchers.

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