The Internet contains a wealth of information on virtually every topic. Whether or not that information is accurate is another matter.
You may be searching for different sources to improve the credibility of your business website or strengthen a point you’re making in an article. How can you increase your chances of using credible Internet sources?
The following are some points to consider:
- Are you using a primary source or a secondhand account? Let’s say you need to write about the latest cancer statistics in the USA. If you can get your hands on a PDF of a government report or a research article, this is already better than taking the word of a secondhand account, such as a blog post providing the stats (especially if there are multiple secondhand accounts that offer different numbers or other conflicting details).
- Are you questioning the source of the information? Government (.gov) and academic websites are generally more credible than the average random blog you come across; similarly, reputable professional organizations will often strive for higher standards of accuracy. But you should still look into the source of the information they’re providing. For example, if there’s a report based on survey data, how was the survey designed? Who participated in it? Find out as much as you can and consider the data carefully. Try to understand where the information is coming from and in what ways it might be misleading or incomplete.
- Are you too quick to discount personal websites? Many personal websites aren’t credible sources of information, but some are. You might come across experts in some area who provide wonderfully detailed, well-researched articles on their websites. Again, look at the sources they’re citing (ideally, they should use references) and their methodology if they’ve conducted their own data collection. If they publish under their real names, have a look at their credentials (though don’t be blinded by credentials either).
- Does an authoritative tone dazzle you? Graphs and charts may look scientific but convey nonsensical or inaccurate information. There are many people who spread misinformation while using an authoritative tone of voice or the trappings of scientific inquiry. Just remember: It doesn’t matter if they’re wearing a lab coat or have fancy diagrams or complex infographics or something that looks like a credible citation (but is actually their best friend’s uncle’s tinfoil hat conspiracy website); it doesn’t matter if they appear to quote a famous figure or use a lot of sophisticated terminology.
- Do you check for biases? These include your own. You may lean strongly towards a certain piece of information because it really meshes well with what you believe in or hope to find. Question yourself and consider the biases of your sources.
- Have you looked at when the information was published? Maybe it’s out of date and no longer relevant.
- Do you ever look beyond Wikipedia? Hopefully. It’s not that Wikipedia doesn’t have its uses. It’s just that it isn’t really a source in and of itself, but rather a potential gateway to other sources of information. A high-quality Wikipedia article will have a list of references or notes that you click on and double check. Don’t take the site’s content at face value.
- Everyone’s tweeting it, so isn’t it true? Social media hoaxes are rampant. For instance, have a look at this gallery of fake photos tweeted during Hurricane Sandy – some of them obviously fake, but others appearing credible enough to fool news organizations.
If you need writing assistance, be sure to work with a professional writer who has research experience. Finding credible information on the Internet may be difficult. You need to know where to look and also how to evaluate the sources you uncover.
(Image of Abe Lincoln and his Internet musings found here.)