At one point or another in your professional life, you will be put in a position where online research is inevitable. This is already the case for most creatives and freelancers. With the wealth of information already encoded on the Internet, this tired cliche really rings true: information is right at your fingertips.
However, researching topics online for whatever purpose does not mean that it’s alright to slack off or sacrifice quality. While it's true that you shouldn't believe every single thing you see or read online, it says a lot about you as a professional if you fail to distinguish one from the other.
To avoid that scenario, here are some tips on how to find accurate information on the Internet:
- Stay away from the Wiki way.
Any writer worth his or her salt goes deeper than Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Make that your mantra and repeat it every time you are tempted to rely solely on this source, or any one source for that matter. A well-researched composition is a product of insights and data gathered from multiple reliable sources. That is not to say, however, that public repositories like Wikipedia have no merit, as they typically serve as jump-off points to the original sources themselves.
If that argument is not enough for you to stop relying solely on Wikipedia, just take a look at this example taken from a BuzzFeed list of “spectacular acts of Wikipedia vandalism” that had once ran rampant on the page:
Figure 1. There is no second rule. (source: BuzzFeed.com)
- May the Source be with you.
You are equipped with browsers, smart devices, and Web apps that can synchronize and manage multiple lists of every relevant source you find. Use them. Bookmark relevant sources that you feel are parts of related literature for your work.
Don’t just limit yourself to Web search options; expand your searches into scholarly articles and use search shortcuts to trim down the fat in your searches. Did you know that appending “site:” before the name of a certain website limits your search results into that site alone? Try it and these other Web search tricks on your next online adventure.
Even on your leisure time, you can also try to visit and familiarize yourself with the vast content that are available from educational initiatives like Project Gutenberg, Google Scholar, Academic Info, and the Internet Archives.
- Ditch the copy-pasters.
A certain source may be presenting accurate information when you read them, even citing everything properly. Remember, this is easy when content is plagiarized or lifted right off other people’s research or pages. Before you go on quoting and digesting anything, double check first if they are the real source. You can use plagiarism checkers online, such as Grammarly’s and Copyscape, to accomplish this.
- Expand your form factor.
Isn’t it that when we search, we tend to narrow down our options into text-based formats where our keywords took us? Widen your horizon and gobble up all the multimedia magic of the Internet. Sometimes, untranscribed information can be found in well-produced videos, audio interviews, and company slideshows. For instance, Slideshare and Ted Talks have real gems you can quote from real experts in their respective fields. Take advantage of these and you’ll find expert insights you can use on your next research foray, in a format that you can even help present yourself.
- Find the core communities.
Be there even before a concept goes into the mainstream. Find professional communities that constantly discuss subjects relevant to your field. This way, you are updated with the latest research, trends, and general schools of thought forming in your own field. This can also help you join the conversation, accumulate contacts, and expound on your own informed opinions.