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Social Media and Scholarly Papers: Home

Is it ever appropriate to cite social media in your scholarly paper? If so, how do you site these resources?

Attention!

WARNING: Always check with your instructor first!  He or she has the final say on whether social media is permissible as a source on a given assignment.

About This Guide

Social Media and Scholarly Papers

  • This guide will explore issues around using social media for scholarly papers, including:
  • Is it okay to cite social media for my scholarly paper?
  • If so, how do I cite social media for my scholarly paper?
  • Is it okay to conduct research via social media? 

What is social media?  For this Guide we are talking about sites like facebook, twitter, tumblr, and instagram.

Is it okay to cite social media for my scholarly paper?

Q: Is it okay to cite social media for my scholarly paper?

A: Maybe.

  • Not all instructors will welcome citations to social media
  • Social media should only be used as support or illustration, not as a standalone source.  (i.e. You would cite something like The Washington Post article on Starbucks' War on Christmas first and then perhaps cite the responses to the issue coming from social media.)
  • It can be hard to establish the credibility and purpose of social media posts
  • Social media is likely to be very biased, and you must make thoughtful decisions about managing that bias
  • Social media may be a good source for reactions to a local issue, which may not get much mainstream media coverage

If so, how do I cite social media for my scholarly paper?

Q: If so, how do I cite social media for my scholarly paper?

A: Below is a chart for two common citation styles, from TeachBytes.

Social Media can also be cited under the Chicago Manual of Style.  However, since that manual hasn't been updated since 2010, the current practice is to model your citation as described under "Blog".

Is it okay to conduct research via social media?

Q: Is it okay to conduct research via social media? 

A: Probably not

  • Scholarly research is a very formal process with a variety of systems and protocols in place to ensure that the data gathered is useful, reliable, and unbiased.
  • Through social media you are primarily going to reach people you know, who probably share a lot of traits with you, and who in any event not a random sampling of the population, and therefore considered a weak sample.  Or you are going to reach people with an active interest in a topic, who have followed a tumblr, subscribed to a subreddit, or searched for a hashtag, etc., again probably undesirable from a research standpoint.
  • An online survey, constructed in consultation with your instructor or the Statistics Assistance Center, and sent to a carefully developed population of respondents, is almost always going to be a better option.

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