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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

By: Kathleen Pickering

When turning your research sights on Internet sources for your writing, how can you be certain you’re discovering trusted information?

deepthroatIt’s not like back in Watergate days, when Bob Woodward spoke to a voice on the phone who gave him enough evidence to prove he was reliable enough to deserve the title, “Deep Throat.”

Those were the days. Drama while researching a story. Nice. Now, who knows from where comes the wellspring of Internet “facts”? How can we be sure the information we pull from the digital ether won’t leave us with egg on our face? Or worse: some reader sending an email proving our information was wrong. Major story killer!

Personally, I prefer on-site research for my stories, and so far have been able to use that tool successfully. However, I do rely on the Internet for facts. Ironic as it sounds, I searched the Internet to find guidelines for researching reliable sources on-line. I found the most reliable tips from websites for university libraries. Since the first tip was to check the authority of a source, I thought colleges would offer the most unbiased tools for determining reliable information.

research3I found when choosing an article, blog, website, government document, historical journal or any resource posted online five key areas should be considered:

1. The Authority of the author/publisher of information.

You should be able to identify the author of the work/site, his/her credentials, relevant affiliations, and past writings. The article itself should offer information, or sources like Who’s Who, the  author’s home page, or Google search the publishers/author’s name to see what other works support their credentials.

2. The Objectivity of the author.

What is the motive for your source’s article, blog, website? Does your source admit to a particular bias? Offer historical, medical or industry facts and not opinions, or affiliation viewpoints? Can you compare the information to other independent sites/articles to verify facts?

3. The Quality of the information:

Do the facts agree with your own knowledge of the subject? Can you insure information is complete and accurate by comparing with other specialists in the field? Does this author list other sources for his/her information, as well? And, believe it or not, check the site, article or blog for grammatical and spelling errors, typos. These usually indicate a non-professional delivery of information, making the facts suspect.


4. Evaluate Date of information:

When was the information published?  Check the date on the web page for publication date and revision dates. Is the information current? Does it update old facts? Substantiate other materials you’ve read? 

5. Establish Relevance of the information:

Are these facts popular vs. scholarly? (Huffington Post vs. Wall Street Journal)Does the information use raw data, photographs, first-hand accounts, reviews or research reports? Has the information been analyzed and the resources cited? Are footnotes, endnotes or bibliographies listed?

Remember, Wikipedia is no the end-all of resources, since anyone can edit it. And, a rule of thumb is to ensure you tap at least five different sources to verify your facts before accepting your information as usable.

So far, I’ve been lucky. But, I’ve only just begun my writing career. Has anyone out there put facts in their book they pulled from the Internet only to discover the source was wrong?



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