Thanks to the Internet, it’s never been easier to stay informed. No matter what you want to learn, it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to find what you’re looking for.
Conversely, getting misinformed is just as easy as anyone can post anything online. Because of this, not focusing on the reliability of internet sources when you’re reading or writing can be a big mistake.
Luckily, it’s possible to make sure that you only gather and share information from credible sources. And it all starts with your approach.
The Importance of Cultivating a Critical Thinking Mindset
Did you know that an octopus can survive up to 24 hours out of water?
Are you thinking critically about what to answer?
You should, because even though this may sound like a surprising fact, it’s false.
This example shows just how easy it is to fall for inaccurate information. But not all misinformation is harmless.
For example, a review published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research points out how easy it is to unwittingly act on false information. In testing the credibility, accuracy, and comprehensiveness of online advice regarding low back pain treatment, only 487 recommendations out of 1125 (43.3%) were deemed accurate. More than half or 56.7% were either inaccurate or unclear.
Fake news and statements taken out of context can spread online as fast as a wildfire. Still, the same is true for inaccurate or wrong information and advice, as some content creators do not spend enough time researching and end up reusing and propagating inaccurate information. If you’re not careful about the sourcing of credible information, you could be guilty of the same.
For this reason and more, you should always be critical when reading and writing about any topic. Here are some useful tips that can help you develop a critical thinking mindset.
1. Look for Bias or Hidden Agendas
Misinformation sometimes happens as a result of honest mistakes. More commonly, however, it happens on purpose, with or without an agenda.
A good example are websites that publish content with the expressed purpose of selling products. They often twist facts about their products to make whatever they’re selling more appealing. In doing so, they create misconceptions that other people might go on and share further.
Being able to recognize the type of content you’re reading is very important. By nature, opinion pieces contain shades of the writer’s biases, so you may want to consider the information accordingly.
Make a habit of scanning content for biases and agendas. Question what you read and always follow up with more research on the key points and takeaways.
2. Beware of Expert Opinions
These days, the word “expert” is thrown around too generously. As such, everyone should take expert opinions with a grain of salt.
Whenever you run into any opinion or editorial content, take some time to research the expert at hand. Look for proof of authority and credibility before you apply or share their ideas and knowledge. Unless it’s clear that they’re a specialist in their field, you might want to look for another source.
3. Practice Active Reading
There’s a difference between reading to understand and just reading. To do the latter is to make it easier to fall victim to false info.
In its stead, you should genuinely engage with the content. Ask additional questions about the topic and look for all possible answers. You’ll become a more critical reader, and you stand to gain a deeper understanding of the topic.
Whenever you catch your mind wandering or skimming through a piece of content, you may want to go back a little and sharpen your focus.
What Is a Reliable Source (And How to Find It)?
Reliable website sources offer information that’s well-reasoned, objective, and backed up with evidence. Sometimes, finding credible sources online can be challenging, especially for those who are reluctant or don’t have the time to put in the research.
To help you with this process, consider the following tips for finding reliable websites:
1. Start with the URL
In many cases, a website’s URL can help you determine its credibility. Extensions like .gov or .edu generally signal safe and reputable sites. On the other hand, odd extensions like .offer and .infonet are often a red flag.
Commercial (.com) and organization (.org) websites can go either way, as anyone can purchase these domains.
Luckily, there are other ways of determining a source’s credibility, so you should look further than the URL.
2. Look at the Website’s Design
All your life, you’ve been told not to judge a book by its cover. You can throw that out the window in your search for reputable sources. A website’s design can tell you a lot about its trustworthiness.
Now, we’re not talking about a website’s aesthetic appeal here. Instead, you should look for things like a high-res logo, consistent fonts, quality images, and an intuitive layout.
For example, take one look at abcnews.com and you know that it’s a reliable source of information. In contrast, abcnews.com.co is just trying to play to the fact that everyone has heard of ABC News. It’s rather poorly designed too, conveniently free of logo or contact information.
3. Perform a Link Search
Reliable sources usually link out to one another. So, if you’re unsure about whether a source is credible, checking the links can be a good idea.
The process is straightforward enough. Just go to Google and search:
If many websites link to the source, it should be trustworthy, or at least it’s trustworthy enough for these other sites to link to it. Of course, the quality of those links also matters and deserves your attention.
4. Pay Attention to Dates
Credible sources don’t post out-of-date content and update their existing content frequently. This is especially the case if they’re covering an ever-changing topic or situation. If an article hasn’t been updated in a long time, the site should direct your attention to the original publication date or suggest more recent related stories. It’s what all credible news sites do.
Of course, some topics are evergreen, and sites often discuss facts that don’t change with time. Still, you should always try to work with the most recent information.
5. Avoid Anonymous Sources
After you’re done writing something you’re proud of, would you want to put your name on it?
You probably would.
By the same token, you can use this as a filter for a source’s credibility. The thing with anonymous authors is that you can’t verify their authority. Plus, you don’t know where they got the information from. Play it safe, and try to avoid anonymous sources as much as possible.
A Guide to Writing Data-Driven Posts
Professional website content writers understand the value of providing high-quality content that’s devoid of errors, informative, and factual. A reputable content writing company has to go above and beyond to source information from only the most reliable sources. There’s no other way to it, and you should do the same.
Furthermore, aside from finding reliable sources, there are a few other best practices for writing a strong, data-driven piece.
1. Understand What Makes High-Quality Data
For any data-driven posts, the research is likely to take longer than the writing. For this reason, many talented writers and content creators outsource article writing services. The best content writing companies have processes and experienced writers who are pros at doing thorough research.
But if you choose to do your own research, you need to understand the characteristics that define high-quality data:
- It needs to be supported by evidence that can be verified
- It needs to be relevant and statistically valid
- It needs to be reliable and not contradict other trusted sources
- It needs to be written by an author who represents authority on a subject area (their qualifications and affiliations must be transparent)
In essence, you should know who acquired the data and how. All the processes and sources should be credible, so be careful about where you source your data.
2. Plan Your Content
Before you start writing, you should have a good idea of what your piece will look like. This would require you to answer a few questions:
- “What am I trying to achieve with my post?”
- “What issues/questions does my audience have?”
- “What emotion should the piece evoke?”
- “Why would someone find the content valuable?”
When you answer these questions, you should create an outline for your post. A well-conceived content outline gives you a detailed structure and ensures that you don’t avoid any critical questions or topics. Plus, it will be much easier to write the post if you have a good outline.
3. Cite Statistics
Remember the low back pain statistic from earlier? It’s an excellent example of how you should present your data.
On top of the numbers, make sure to cite the source. This lends credibility to the data and allows your readers to look up the information if needed. Your content will come off as more authoritative and transparent, which your audience will appreciate.
4. Provide Examples
In many cases, there’s a discrepancy in theoretical knowledge and practice. This is a common issue when trying to explain concepts that your audience might not be familiar with.
If that’s the case, the best way to bring your content closer to the audience is by providing examples. Besides, specific points that you want to make might not have any readily quotable data. This is when providing examples can strengthen your point.
Let’s say that you want to talk about the importance of innovation in business. You might not be able to find any quantitative data to back up the message. But you could write something like:
“Failing to innovate can ruin even the most successful companies. This is what happened to BlackBerry, run over by the competitors for its reluctance to innovate.”
You’d then proceed with a more detailed story, which would serve as proof for your initial claim. A good example can engage your readers and strengthen your message.
5. Reference Authorities
To become a credible source of information, the best thing you can do is associate with an existing credible source. In other words, you can cite people who are an established authority in your field.
For example, if you’re writing a piece on investing, you can quote Warren Buffett and share some of his most valuable lessons. Along with enlightening statistics and other data, this can add to your credibility.
Of course, you should still give your content a personal touch rather than just copying. As long as you can apply a unique twist, you can leverage existing authorities to add more impact to your post.
Get Your Facts Straight
Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of what it takes to weed out inaccurate information and fake news. Remember that a critical mindset is essential, as it’s required if you’re to question what you read and not believe anything blindly.
As demonstrated, there are lots of tools and strategies that can facilitate fact-checking.
When writing content, your goal should be to provide reliable, accurate, and useful information. It’s a proven way to build trust and a loyal audience. And as you may know, there are few things online as important as trust.