UPDATED JUNE 5, 2023
The internet is a wondrous thing, especially if you’re researching to create a piece of content.
But it’s a largely open forum, which means anyone can post anything without having to validate it.
So, if you want your content to be credible, you need to be careful.
8 Practical content research tips
Here are my 8 practical tips for doing content research like a pro.
1. Don’t believe everything you read
When I wrote the original version of this article, in August 2018, I searched the internet to find out how much of the information on the internet was factually correct.
Hey, Siri, define irony.
My search brought up a number of figures ranging from 50% to 85%. Obviously it was inconclusive, but it made a good a point about the validity of the information online — and why you shouldn’t always trust it.
In June 2023, I repeated the same experiment and found some even sketchier results.
It seems now, rather than estimating the amount of factually incorrect information on the internet, we’re surveying people to see how many have found factually incorrect information online.
But considering 86% of internet users in a survey admitted to having been fooled by fake news, you have to wonder whether or not they’d know the difference!
Be cautious with information you find online
This is the number one golden rule when you’re doing content research.
In the following points, we’ll look at how you can be more cautious and conduct online research wisely.
2. Never trust AI for research
I, and numerous other writers I know, have tested AI ‘writers’ and we’ve all come to similar conclusions. While what it ‘writes’ might sound credible and convincing, its research skills are missing in action.
AI can’t distinguish a credible source from a bogus one. In fact, following my own experiences and what I’ve heard from others, I’m now convinced it just makes stuff up.
When I found incorrect information in my test article, I had no idea where it had come from. And when I tried to locate the source online, I couldn’t even find it.
Another writer requested a sources list from ChatGPT. When she checked the links, they all went to Error 404 pages.
So where, oh where, is it getting its information from? It’s a mystery.
And one final note of caution: if AI is using flawed research, then everything it writes will be flawed, too.
3. Back up your claims
The amount of misinformation out there is unquantifiable. And, going back to point one in this article, 86% of internet users in a survey admitted to having been fooled by fake news.
As a result, many people have become more cautious and questioning when dealing with new information.
To build your readers’ trust you need to back up your claims with credible evidence.
4. Use original and reputable sources
When you’re backing up your claims, you should always try to link to the original source of information, if there is one. Or a reputable source if not.
You won’t impress or convince anyone if you say you got your information from Fred Bloggs’ blog. No offence to Fred, but he doesn’t sound much like an official or reputable source, does he?
But if Fred Bloggs tells you his information came from an official study, you can follow Fred’s link — if there is one — or find the study yourself and quote that.
Going down the rabbit hole
Sometimes there may be several layers — or rabbit holes, as we pros call them.
For example, if Fred Bloggs links to John Smith’s blog, John Smith links to Louise Jones’ blog — and Louise Jones links to Forbes, you could quote the Forbes article, because that’s a reputable source. But if the Forbes article is quoting an original source, use that instead.
What counts as a reputable source?
Websites of quality newspapers, magazines and periodicals; respected broadcasters, public bodies and industry experts are all reputable sources.
5. Check your information is still current
Unless you’re talking about historic information that’s already set in stone, the information you’re citing will be subject to change.
When you’ve found the original statistics or information to back up your claim, you’ll need to check the date on it and make sure it’s still current and relevant.
What counts as current information?
The freshness of a piece of information will depend on the nature of the information and how old it is. In most cases, if it’s within 1-3 years it should be okay.
But information on a fast-changing subject, like online threats or flash-in-the-pan trends can become outdated even quicker.
Some studies are repeated annually to keep an evolving record of changing trends over time. So if the study you’re looking at is from two years ago, it’s worth looking to see if there’s a more recent version.
6. Check your information is still viable
Time isn’t the only factor that can date a piece of information or make it obsolete.
For example, even if it’s relatively new, it could have been:
- Superseded by more recent information
- Made irrelevant by a better study
- Changed by a recent happening or event
- Discredited or called into question.
In any of these instances, the information might not still be usable.
7. Beware of bias
Anything that’s written by another person will be subject to their interpretation, their perspective — and their bias.
But their way might not be the only way to understand the information or the issues. And if there’s any bias in your content, it should really be your own.
Applying your own experience and ideas to the source material can help you give new insight and create more unique and original content.
8. Credit your sources
If you’ve used an outside source in the creation of your content, always give credit. Crediting your sources adds value and credibility to your own work and will protect you against any claims of plagiarism.
To give credit, create a clickable text link to the source in your article.
Using the prime information as your link will describe to your visitors and to Google what they will find there.
For example, in the sentence below, I would use the information given as the link.
“According to the New York Times, less than 60 percent of web traffic is human.”
Set source links, like this, to open in a new tab, if you can. This way, if your reader clicks the link to read the source information and gets sidetracked, they will still have your site open in the previous tab.
Every once in a while, use a broken link checker on your website to detect any links you have to pages that have been removed.
Do you need high quality, well-researched blog content?
Maybe I can help you.
I’m Jenny Lucas, a highly experienced contact writer who has conducted research on all kinds of subjects, for all kinds of clients.