#PWP121 – The Importance of Research in Professional Writing


Research – IMG_1367‘ by N i c o l a is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) licence.

This week, please use this thread to discuss:

  • how we find sources of good reliable information. What is your method for searching for information?
  • how we assess the reliability and validity of information on the Internet. The Internet is a rich source of information and misinformation. What practices do employ to ensure that the information you find is credible?
  • examples of misinformation. Can you identify examples where misinformation is used to support an argument?

How we find sources of good, reliable information – what is your method for searching for information?

If I am starting from scratch and I know nothing about a topic, I will conduct advanced internet searches via Google and Google Scholar to ascertain the background information about it. I use different search engines, depending on my information needs, but generally, I refer to Google as a first port of call. I will also run specific searches for particular types of web sites – e.g. government and organisational web sites are sites I tend to trust more as a point of reference. Google also tends to offer Wikipedia results first, depending on how intricate my search string is. I don’t mind using Wikipedia for background information, but I will always check the details supplied in the article. These preliminary searches on the web help me to establish the bigger picture of a topic and narrow down on possible keywords to use when running an Advanced search in the academic databases of a university’s library web site. I make use of Boolean logic (‘and’, ‘or’, and ‘and not’ limiters) to spread my search across a few fields to save time and obtain more specific results for my needs. If my search is too specific and nothing comes up, I will broaden my search accordingly – this is rare for me, but can happen on occasion. The most important part of conducting an advanced search in the electronic databases is to set the parameters of my search in the first instance – for example, I will always look for full text articles (rather than abstracts), scholarly and peer-reviewed results (rather than opinions and letters to the editor) and, if relevant, I will limit my search to a particular time frame. So, if were searching for information about wearable technology, I would restrict my search to the last 12-18 months, as this subject changes very quickly in a short amount of time. I would seriously question why I would be interested in information about wearable technology that was published in 2008, unless, of course, I was interested in the origins and history of such technology.

How we assess the reliability and validity of information on the Internet. The Internet is a rich source of information and misinformation. What practices do you employ to ensure that the information you find is credible?

I try to triangulate my searches on the internet. For example, if Wikipedia told me that the capital of Australia was Canberra, I would try and find at least two other sources that stated the same thing. Again, I would check anything I find on the internet against peer-reviewed articles and published texts if possible – as stated in this question, you can find information that is incorrect, but appears to be credible. So checking from a variety of trustworthy sources is always recommended and a huge time-saver as well. I also check the credentials of the web site’s creator and writer/owner. If possible, I will also try to ascertain when the web site started by looking at its first date of publication. Sometimes, this information can prove handy to find out if the information contained on a web site is as reliable as it claims to be.Then, the ownership is important too – some web sites look objective in nature, but upon further investigation, you can see if the domain name of the web site is registered to a company or organisation with financial motivations for putting out this particular kind of information. They might be making money from putting out misinformation, or a “slight”variation of the truth.

Sometimes, I have been known to run an “info: ” search on a web site – e.g. info:www.google.com.au will provide you a history of a lot of the information that Google will keep about a web site. It may provide you with snapshots of how the web site has evolved over time, perhaps providing it with more (or less) credibility. Plus, importantly, it can also tell you who is linking TO the site and which sites the page is linking TO as well. This kind of linking online can help to establish credibility as well. The more people linking to a site goes a long way in establishing the site’s credibility if others are willing to risk their reputations by providing links to the same URL.

Examples of misinformation. Can you identify examples where misinformation is used to support an argument?

There are so MANY instances of misinformation being used in Australia’s political system alone! Our current government, along with some shock-jocks like Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt are great examples of this.

But, Australian politics and media aside, sometimes you can find instances on the internet that look trustworthy and credible, but on further inspection, are entirely fraudulent or biased, skewing the reader to adopt a particular stance on a given topic. A good example of such a web site is one about Martin Luther King Jr. If you conduct a search for “Martin Luther King” on Google, one of the results usually listed on the first page is http://martinlutherking.org/ This site proclaims to be one filled with factual information about the activist. However, on further examination, one finds out that it is produced by the Stormfront organisation, which is a “white nationalist” online community created in 1995 by former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard, Don Black. One cringes if one contemplates the ramifications of an information illiterate person accessing this information, like a child doing a school project, and believing it to be true because they found it through a Google search.

If one conducts a search on Google using this search string: “fraudulent web sites” list, once can find other instances of sites containing misinformation. The Red Cross organisation has been another popular target online for this kind of fraud as well. In the early 2000s, I recall that the World Health Organisation (WHO) was always targeted too. I wonder if the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has become a target of late as well?


About Maha @ Uni

Studying online, and want to keep a record of my progress and experiences...
This entry was posted in Attribution, Information Literacy, Intellectual Property, Letters to the Editor, Online Research, Professional Writing, Research, Writing, Writing Skills and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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