Don’t believe everything you read when researching online

March 15th, 2013

The Internet is an spectacular tool for research. Gone are the days when you had to run to your local library to uncover the average salary for steel workers in the 1990s. You no longer need to flip through encyclopedias to discover the forgotten inventions of Leonardo da Vinci. Even so the Internet can also be a treacherous place for researchers. The online world is filled, unfortunately, with documents, research and statistics that are wrong. Believing this erroneous data can ruin your research efforts. The Web site Lifehacker, though, recently presented several tips for bettering your online research.

Watch for your bias

No one is free from bias. Everybody has their own strong opinions. These opinions, though, can skew our online research. That is why, Lifehacker recommends that researchers first recognize their own biases before engaging in online research. For example, if you believe that life starts at conception, you may not be inclined to acknowledge studies or opinion pieces taking the opposite side. This tends to ruin your online research before you even start. Make sure, then, to take what Lifehacker calls your confirmation bias into account before you start scanning the Internet for your research.

Look for bad information

Lifehacker points to inadequately cited articles as a big trap for online researchers. Unfortunately, the Internet is loaded with “research” that isn’t very methodical in nature. Search for articles that are highly sourced and that originate from respected journals, magazines or newspapers. You can generally rely on medical journals and government reports, as well, when it comes to online research.

Fine-tune your search

To find the current and most comprehensive studies on your subject, you’ll need to expand your search past the usual suspects of Google, Bing and Yahoo! Instead, turn to specialized scholarly searches that can yield more detailed information. Google Scholar and Scirus are powerful tools for academic research. So is PLOS, run by the Public Library of Science, and the United States Library of Congress.