Linking out: Support your work and serve your readers
How do you know that? Where’d you hear it? Is that really true? Did he really say that? What was the context? Are you leaving something out? Wait, I don’t understand the reference you just made—what are you talking about?
Your readers are asking those questions and many, many more as they read what you’ve written. The best way to answer them is by linking to the source of your information, the background or the explanation.
In some ways, it’s simple courtesy, saving your reader a Google search. But in most cases, it’s good journalism and good Internet citizenship.
You have a lot more credibility if you can back up what you’re saying with credible links. If one writer says that Player A has a habit of making outrageous statements and another writer says the same thing but links to several news stories detailing those statements, who has better served you, the reader?
Linking to the source of your information gives your readers a chance to examine that information for themselves. Maybe they’ll come to a different conclusion you did. Maybe they’ll see something there that you’ve missed. Or maybe they’ll learn that they really can trust you, that when you say something was said or reported a certain way, you’ve got your facts straight.
Linking can also make your writing flow more smoothly. The web is a wonderful tool. Thanks to the ability to hyperlink, we don’t have to stop the narrative to explain every obscure reference or lay out the backstory of some person or situation we just want to make a passing reference to.
A minor example is this blog’s Quote of the Day. I could explain who Francine Prose or Philip Pullman or Stephen Leacock is, but who they are is beside the point of what I’m doing in that post. I’m focusing on what they’ve said. But if you want to know who they are, I link their names to a bio, usually a Wikipedia page, and you can click and find out.
It’s also courteous, and professional, to give credit to someone for the hard work they’ve put in to get the information you’ve learned from them and are using in your piece. Where’d you hear that? Link to it.
Matthew Ingram of GigaOm posted a Storify last spring of a discussion he and others had about linking out. At one point, Jacob Harris of the New York Times, calling himself a devil’s advocate, wondered if linking was really all that important.
“I mean, really, we all would like it to be better,” he asked, “but do most readers care?”
Ingram’s reply: “Why do we write these articles at all? To inform—and links to further information are part of that duty we owe our readers.” (I’ve cleaned up Ingram’s lack of capitalization on Twitter.) The entire conversation is worth reading.
Links are powerful tools for conveying information. By orders of magnitude, they allow you to present more information to your readers than you can with just your prose. There’s no need to plaster your piece over with superfluous links, but linking out to support your arguments and facts is a best practice, and it isn’t difficult.
Far too many Bleacher Report articles appear without any links at all. Before you publish, look your piece over. Is there anything you could be linking to that you aren’t? Fix that.