The Internet is a Godsend for writers. You can conceive, research, write and edit your masterpieces from the comfort of your own home and you don’t have to wade through the stacks or sift through the card catalog at your local library. Internet research as becoming the norm for writers all over the globe, not only for its convenience, but also for its diversity. The problem with Internet research, however, is judging its accuracy.
If I want, I can purchase a domain, set up web hosting and create an entire website about dogs and cats. None of the information I put on the website has to be true, but if I claim that my information is accurate, how will you know otherwise? And if magazines and newspapers are not immune from error, how can you possible trust the accuracy of an Internet resource?
Not only do you have to worry about the accuracy of Internet research, but you must also avoid trusting the truth in unsolicited e-mails. How many times have you opened your inbox to a slew of e-mails about the latest Internet viruses? Most of these have been disproven by many sources, but the average American believes what he or she reads.
To help you judge the accuracy of your Internet research, ask yourself the following questions:
>Does the website exist primarily to sell stuff?
Always be wary of an Internet resource whose entire existence is based on sales. If the information given leads up to a “Buy It Now” paragraph, you should find another resource. The Internet is overloaded by websites geared specifically toward making a buck, and unless you can verify the information elsewhere, it’s best to just move on.
>Is there a bibliography included?
Most of the information in the world is recycled; there are very few new ideas and facts because each has a basis in something else. When conducting Internet research, look for a bibliography page where trustworthy resources are cited by the author. If the information has been gleaned by reputable books and authorities, you can likely trust it.
>When was the website (or page) created?
If you’re looking at a website that was created in 1996 and hasn’t been updated since, then you’re probably reading outdated information. It’s much better to find an Internet resource where the information is current. If the page isn’t dated and you can’t find information from the browser, you can always e-mail the webmaster to inquire. As a guideline, try to use only Internet research that is less than twelve months old.
>Can you verify the information through other Internet research?
Often, information is more reliable if you can verify it through several Internet websites which are owned by different companies or people. I try to use this guideline even when researching information on reputable websites like CNN.com. If the information isn’t verified elsewhere, you might be dealing with an inaccuracy.
>Who provides the information?
Always check up on authors who you find during Internet research. While John Doe from Nowhereville, TN might have plenty of accurate facts, you’d be better off with something written by a known expert in the field. And remember that people lie all the time on the Internet, so be careful when judging the accuracy of a person’s statement, even if you’ve heard of them before.
If you’re still lost when it comes to judging the accuracy of Internet research, some of these tips might help you become more savvy:
>Use Your Common Sense
If something seems fishy, double- and triple-check it to make sure it’s accurate. Don’t rely on what the author says he or she has done or seen; verify facts for yourself. And if you can’t verify information from Internet research, toss it in the trash (or delete it from your bookmarks).
>Visit Hoax Websites
Websites which are dedicated to busting myths, legends, hoaxes and urban legends are great ways to disprove the accuracy of a sources. Snopes and Vmyths are two great resources for this purpose.
Generally speaking, information gleaned from mass e-mails is not to be trusted. Unless a friend has e-mailed you an article from a news website, you should simply delete it or attempt to back up the information.