Primary versus secondary use of blog data in research

Primary versus secondary use of blog data in research

I’ve previously talked about researchers using blogs as data sources in their research. I have argued that since blogs are self-publication, then bloggers should be cited appropriately in research reports.

When data is collected specifically for research purposes, we talk about primary data collection. When data is collected for a different purpose, but then later used for research purposes, we call that secondary use of data. Secondary use of data generally requires approval from research ethics boards to ensure that the data was originally collected in an ethical manner, and that the secondary use of data does not put research participants in any form of harm.

The rules of engagement around blogging stem from whether or not the blog text is seen as a publication that is publicly available. Further, when it is seen as its own genre, then can a blog be used as a publication would or does it become a data source that would require secondary use of data approval? If the blog is a data source that is used by researchers, the data can be seen as having been generated for a different purpose, and as such, the researcher should then be required to seek secondary use of data approval. In most cases, this then requires that the researcher get permission from the data owner (in this case the blogger) for use of the blog data within their research study.

In addition, I’ve seen research that confuses the blogger with a research participant, or in the case of health blogs, as a patient. In the case where the researcher is using public blog data without interaction with the blogger, then the blogger should be considered neither a research participant, nor a patient. The blogger, in this case, is a published author. The blog, is a publication, and should be cited appropriately in research reports.

So, should the use of ‘blogs as data’ for research purposes require secondary use of data approval?



2 Replies to “Primary versus secondary use of blog data in research”

  1. Rebecca, I appreciate your explanation of the difference between primary and secondary research sources. I’m not a scientist so I’m not sure that I am qualified to reply to your question. I know that I try very hard to use primary sources for my own blog and social media posts, even though I often come across news of a study first in someone else’s blog. I follow their links or look up the paper in Google Scholar so I can quote the source. I also find that when I read the source I sometimes come to a different conclusion about what the study “means” than the other blogger.

    I’m ashamed to say it never entered my mind to ask permission to cite a research paper or a blog. I always thought it was sufficient to cite the source and give them credit for their content.

    What is your opinion on this practice?


    1. Primary and secondary sources are different than primary or secondary use of data. Secondary use of data implies that the data was collected for a different purpose, and you want to then use it for research. Primary or secondary sources are about where you get the data from. A secondary source is like “hear say”, in that you are getting from someone who said that someone else said it – so it is always good to go to the primary source.

      Now the blogging and citing questing is interesting. For research reports, citing is the norm. You don’t need to ask permission. Blogs on the other hand are a little different. And their is a difference between quoting a blog and using blog as data. Some researchers are taking the entirety of a blog (so all the posts for a year or more) and analyzing that information for themes and such – that is where the research is using the blog “as data” … an in that case, I question that they should be asking permission – as they are using a blog as secondary use of data – the blog data was created for an entirely different purpose. Some researchers/fields of study argue that blogs are public, so they can be used for research data without asking permission. I have a little trouble with that – I want to know when a researcher uses my blog as data – AND I want them to properly cite me when they quote me. I really hate it when they direct quote bloggers but make them “anonymous” as if they were participants in the study – but also because direct quotes of blogs can easily be searched, so they aren’t anonymous anyways.

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