Back in pre-Internet days if you needed to research something you probably headed to the library and pored through stacks of encyclopedias, magazines and various other printed materials looking for the info you needed.
Needless to say, doing research that “old-fashioned” way was quite tedious and time-consuming.
But in today’s connected world we can research most any topic or current event with just a quick Google search.
Truth be told, you’ll usually find numerous articles, blog posts and YouTube videos about most any topic or current event that interests you, eliminating the need to open so much as a single printed book or magazine.
The Internet truly has revolutionized the way we conduct research in the 21st century.
But as wonderful and efficient as the Internet is as a tool for conducting research, it also has a major downside…
These days anyone with a computer or mobile device can start a blog or informational website for just a few bucks. And if someone is especially frugal they can do it for free.
Unfortunately, this “Democratization of the Internet” makes it easy for misinformation and even outright lies to flourish and spread, all the while mixing with the reliable and true information that’s out there.
If you do a Google search for most any topic you’ll instantly receive page after page of links to resources relevant to the topic at hand.
The problem is many of those resources will have inaccurate, incomplete or misleading information that can cloud your thinking and cause confusion that can be difficult to clear up.
Differentiating between the factual information and the lies and falsehoods isn’t always easy, but here are a few tips that can help:
1 – Place most of your trust in large, well-established websites that have a reputation for being reliable over a long period of time.
Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of very good small and relatively new websites that provide top-quality information.
I don’t recommend that you dismiss those kinds of resources out of hand, but if the information they provide is at odds with what you read on larger, widely trusted sites, you’d probably be wise to place your confidence in the info provided by the larger sites.
However, the above being said, if the site in question is an established news website (especially a really large one), pay close attention to the stories they choose NOT to cover.
If a major story breaks that’s political in nature and the site doesn’t even mention it, that’s a huge sign that the site could be trying “bury” the story for political reasons.
Note: I’m not pointing fingers at any particular website or political “side” here. They’re all guilty of this at times.
2 – As you read articles and blog posts, be on the lookout for lots of typos and/or spelling and grammar errors.
I’ve learned over the years that most publishers who don’t spend much time proof-reading the things they publish also tend to publish content that isn’t of the highest quality.
I’m not saying a typo here and there automatically disqualifies a site from being reliable. Truth be told, I’ve probably let a typo or two slip past me in this very post.
But if every other sentence reads like it was written by someone under heavy sedation, it might be best to find a more reliable source.
3 – If the website allows comments on its articles and blog posts, take a few minutes to read some of them.
Chances are if the information on the page isn’t factual there will be comments alerting you to that fact.
4 – If a website you’re reading publishes opinions instead of facts (a political website, for example), it’s wise to independently verify the things you read by reading similar posts on other websites that might have a different take on the same topic.
Reading a wide variety of opinion sites will expose you to a wide variety of views. You can then consider everything you read and form your own conclusions about the topic at hand.
It’s far too easy to get caught up in a bubble when visiting websites that only confirm your own point of view and biases. And yes, we all have them.
5 – If it’s on Facebook, Twitter or any other social media site, take everything you read with an entire shaker of salt. Enough said.
Bottom line: The Internet has made more information available to more people than at any time in human history, but much of that information simply isn’t accurate. Always remember that.
Bonus tip: The short video below offers several tips for effectively using Google to research most any topic.
Note: As always, you can watch the video at full screen by clicking the “square” icon in the lower right-hand corner of the video.