In the book blogosphere it’s generally understood that most bloggers write for fun, that the rules of writing are relaxed, and that no one expects a minimum of ten credible sources to be listed at the end of a post. You can write a discussion post based around general observations such as, “It seems children are reading less these days,” or “People are always making fun of adults for reading YA,” and no one comments asking for the latest statistics to back up these assertions, or a few examples of published criticism of YA readers. However, there are still times when providing numbers or links could bolster your claims.
Whenever I read anything, my gut reaction is to ask myself, “But how do they know? Where is the proof?” I begin by reading generously, of course, and try to see the issue from the other person’s perspective. However, I am also trained to read critically. The fact that one person claims something does not make it true. I need evidence. And I need that evidence from a credible source–that is, from a source where the author is an expert in the field and their assertions have been reviewed by other trained individuals.
The burden of proof is especially important to me when I am on the Internet because very often the credentials of an author remain a mystery. I can go to a social media site like Tumblr and read all sorts of information about history, politics, and culture, but more often than not I have no way to verify–from the post–whether the author writing this has done any research. Very often a post may end with a disclaimer to the effect of, “This is true, but I can’t find where I read it.” Furthermore, I usually have no way of knowing who the author is. Is it a feminist scholar writing on her blog? A college student repeating a lecture? A thirteen-year-old repeating what they learned in class that day?
I do not mean to insult thirteen-year-olds when I note that the information offered in schools is often partial and simplified, so as to be able to fit within the constraints of the curriculum. There’s a difference between reading a middle school textbook on the Civil War and learning from a National Park ranger at a Civil War battlefield. One of the sources has far more context and depth. One of these sources, for instance, will hopefully know more about the contributions of women and Black Americans to the war than a sidebar on the last page of the chapter. One of these sources can challenge our assumptions about what we know about history and expand our minds. The other, often not so much. They’re still busy learning and may not yet have grasped the larger contexts of their lessons, or read the latest studies, or or learned the historical development of the field. The Internet has allowed a wider number of voices to speak, but not all of these voices are equally knowledgeable or authoritative on specific matters.
Of course, finding credible sources is time-consuming and it often feels silly when we, the author, know that we know what we’re talking about. It often feels painful when we know that we know what we are talking about, but we can’t find the source that knowledge originally came from! And it can feel funny when very few other people use sources. Will we look too academic? Will people think we’re intellectually elitist? Can’t people just take our word?
Perhaps many of our readers do take our word. However, I know that I am far more likely to be convinced by an argument where it’s evident the author has done the research. I don’t necessarily need a Works Cited at the bottom of the post, but I do need numbers, dates, and links. I want to be able to verify your work and determine if those statistics are significant, if the information is outdated, if the source is biased. Otherwise, when you tell me something, I am going to remain skeptical. I have to remain skeptical because, as it’s becoming increasingly clear, the fact that someone tells you something does not mean it is true.
Edited to Add: I do want to recognize the many comments below stating that they don’t need evidence for opinion posts or that they don’t need numbers for certain arguments. I think it’s obvious that certain genres require more evidence than others. This post of course does not provide links or numbers because it is my opinion and I don’t make any claims that need evidence (unless I were to point towards discussion posts I found unconvincing, which would, I believe, be seen as mean-spirited on my part).
And, of course, certain claims require different types of evidence. Not all claims need numerical or statistical evidence, nor could you find numbers for certain claims even if you tried. However, I believe specificity is always better. If you are responding to a trend, for example, citing a representative example from that trend is always useful for your readers. You don’t need to find numbers for how many people have made such a claim because there is no place that would likely compile such data. So, yes. Genre and types of claims do make a different, and I think we can all agree on that.
What kinds of arguments do you find convincing? What types of evidence do you look for?