Getting the full story when researching any topic online is hard work. Every website and every website owner has its own views and opinions, and it can be hard to separate fact from bias.

If you are intending on undertaking a research project of any kind, you should be prepared. 

Before you start typing in your favorite search engine or visiting the first website that offers up some information to help with your research, be sure to take precautions and use a few techniques to ensure that you are not wasting your time.

Get Prepared For Success In Online Research

There are several ways that you can go about it; it is just a matter of personal choice. 

You should be prepared to do whatever it takes to get the right answers to your queries, rather than just the first ones that pop up. Do not expect to get the whole story from just a few sources. You are going to have to look at different websites, magazines, newspapers and talk with different people.

You need to make sure that you are prepared for hours of research – remember that the internet can be a time waster, so it is important not to waste your time by jumping around from one site to another.

Here are a few tips to help you make the most out of your research time, and make sure you get a wide variety of sources for a clearer picture.

Not All Information Is Created Equal

You know this already. Websites like The Onion and The Daily Mash are satirical and the news stories are not real, but can you spot a website that is spreading fake news? what even is fake news?

When you are looking for information online, look for the sources. Who set up the site? What do they stand to gain from what they are writing?

It is not just opinion websites that can be biased. Lab results, scientific papers, and review sites can all be biased or flawed in some way.

Checking sources is one of the most important things you can do when researching online. You need to make sure that you are not getting your information from a biased source.

Find Out Who Is Funding The Site

He who holds the purse strings makes the decisions, or at least that is what the famous phrase says. In the online world, that is not too far from the truth either.

By looking at who is funding a website or organization, you have more of a chance of knowing what particular side they are taking, especially if the topic is politics or religion.

As an example, The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit think tank in the United States. The FDD has been listed as one of the top 100 think tanks and public policy institutes in the world. They publish daily news on the Middle East and Arab World and research papers discussing the media’s impact on international politics.

FDD was founded in 2007 by Clifford May, long-time Republican strategist. The goal of FDD is to provide analysis in order to help defend freedoms both domestically and internationally, such as free speech, democracy, and human rights.  

The FDD is non-partisan, but you would be wise to look at any information with background knowledge about the organization and its leaders. 

Check out the Mark Dubowitz website here for more information on the FDD. 

Prioritize Accuracy

You should be aware of the sources and accuracy of each source. You should know if the site in question is getting its information from one source or a range of sources. You should also make it a point to see how reliable they are.

What are the “right” sources? That is not always an easy question to answer.

If you think that a source is credible, ask yourself why? Is there validity in their information? Is there anything that you could use to verify this information? If so, that would make it more accurate.

You should be aware of who is the publisher of the website or journal/magazine and what are they publishing.

Look At Disagreeing Sources

Search for sources that disagree with each other, because this often means they are researching a topic from different perspectives and so you can get the full story from both sides. 

This is not about being able to “prove” a point; it is about checking different sources and coming to your own conclusion. It gives you the facts but also allows you to form your own conclusions.

The idea is not to seek out only those sites that say “A” are true, but also those that say “B”, and then see how much evidence there is for each point of view.

It can be hard to find sources that disagree with each other on the surface but looking at the type of person who follows a source may give you some indication as to who the source is aimed at.

Sources that claim to be neutral are rarely that, and an echo chamber is sadly easy to create online and on social media.

The BBC in the UK for example is meant to be non-political and neutral but has been repeatedly accused of being too left-wing by centrists and right-wingers, and equally too right-wing by those on the left of the political scale.

Be Skeptical

Evaluate what sources are saying critically and with a skeptical eye to avoid being misled or misinformed.

When you see a headline like “Mercury causes Alzheimer’s” or “Vitamin C cures cancer” or “Acupuncture cures colds”, you should be skeptical of the information. It is not right to ignore these things, but it is also not right to believe them as fact.

Summing Up

Students will always find themselves having to research online. One thing that can make the difference between a successful and unsuccessful research project is how well you can navigate the available sites. 

Knowing how to effectively research different sites will make it much easier for you to get the information you need in order to write your paper.

Whether you are writing a research paper for high school homework or a college-level essay, be sure to use the tips above to help you find and evaluate sources.

The more critical you are in researching sources, the better your writing will be. You will also feel more confident about the information that you write in your project.

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