Emilie has studied information and language use for years. She holds degrees in writing as well as a passion for research.
Today, finding good information is more important than ever. The internet gives us more access to information than any time in human history, which at first glance, is a wonderful thing. However, that also means that it's up to us to vet what's useful and what's not.
Which newspaper is best?
Who produced it?
The most important element to think about when evaluating your sources is to look at who created them. Why is this important?
The authors will always have a bias. That's a part of being a human. While some sources have more than others, bias is involved. The amount influences the veracity of the source in question.
Another element is the author's credentials. Do they have a degree? What sort of experience do they have? If they claim to have some sort of expertise, what is it? Can you verify it?
An example is the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people claiming to be doctors have voiced their opinions on disease prevention and treatment. Are they really doctors and what's their background? A virologist or epidemiologist would be a better source regarding infection patterns than a cardiologist or pediatrician, for example.
Finally, what's the motivation behind the media? Are they trying to sell you something? Are they trying to build their viewer base or income? Are they genuinely trying to spread meaningful information for the good of the world?
What kind of site is it?
The best type of site you need depends on the type of information you're looking for.
Are you researching something medical? Sites from educational (.edu) and governmental (.gov) institutions are usually the best options. Because COVID is so new, the information tends to change quickly as scientists discover more information, and governmental websites tend to be updated more quickly than educational websites. However, educational websites and sites like Google Scholar are useful because they can offer a more in-depth look into the information and offer peer-reviewed studies and articles as the pieces make their way through that process.
Even when looking at those, look for linked studies and see if you can pull them up. Although studies can be difficult to read for most people, the abstract sections usually provide valuable information.
However, if you're looking for general news, it's best to find sources with a more central ideology, rather than those with extreme biases. That gets tricky, however, because although journalism is supposed to be unbiased, it often is not, especially in the United States. Sometimes, it's best to go overseas to find more unbiased sources such as the BBC in the UK.
For shopping and product reviews, it's tempting only to rely on the review section under the products, but that's not always accurate, either. Companies will often either send free products or pay customers to leave reviews. Because the customer gets something for "free", they feel obligated to leave a favorable review.
Instead, look up reviews on multiple sites, forums, or ask your network for honest opinions from people who used the products.
When was it published?
When it comes to information, recent information is usually better than information that's too old. That said, the quality of that information matters, as does the purpose of the research.
If you're learning about the history or evolution of something, older information may be exactly what you're looking for. However, if you're looking for current scientific or medical information, you'll want something that was published within the last five years or so, and preferably peer-reviewed.
Peer-reviewed pieces are usually better sources than brand new, non-reviewed information because they are evaluated by multiple professionals within the field of study. That evaluation will involve fact-checking and feedback to the original authors to ensure a quality end product.
Are they selling something?
This aspect is especially important because the goal of the publisher is to get you, the reader, to buy their product. One common SEO (Search Engine Optimization) technique is to market through information, which most often comes by way of blog posts full of recycled information.
Other sources, such as sites selling things like essential oils or "healthy living" products, will only publish the benefits of their products without acknowledging the potential dangers inherent in them.
It's also worth noting that essential oils and supplements aren't regulated in all countries. That means that they may not be what they're marketed as. Always purchase with care.
A Great Channel for More Information Literacy Information
Does it make you emotional?
While there are many topics that rightfully make readers emotional, there are also sources that play on that through sensationalized language and images. Those sites are not there to provide you with information. Rather, they try to manipulate you into doing something, such as sign up for their newsletter, buy their product, or fall into a rabbit hole of monetized pieces.
This aspect is especially important when looking for good news sources. If the source uses sensational or opinionated language, then it's geared more towards manipulating emotion rather than sharing valid information.
Can you verify on unrelated sources?
One of the best ways to determine whether the information is good or not is to see if you can verify it with other organizations unrelated to the original webpage or publication.
That, however, gets tricky in the modern era of the internet and recycled information. There are companies that employ writers to rewrite articles and blog entries for their clients to keep web pages active enough to stay on the first page of search engines.
This also applies to many news agencies that rely on existing reporting by other organizations rather than doing their own investigating.
Whether you are researching information for a potential medical treatment, like vaccinations or medications, or trying to inform yourself about a political issue, the information you rely on must be well-vetted and accurate. The techniques you use must be up to par in order to find the information you need for whatever task you have at hand.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Emilie S Peck