Dependable facts and where to find them

(Posted on 19/02/24)

Dependable facts and where to find them

When you are researching and writing about a subject, it’s always important to cite where your sources are from. But with so many sources available on the internet, how can you tell which are reliable and which are pure fiction? 

It’s also important to make sure that when you are using sources, that you don’t plagiarise other people’s work. In art and culture, there’s a fine line between homage and theft, but when it comes to writing for business – the promotion of services or products, for instance – we find it’s vital to get to know our clients and subjects, so we can write from experience rather than research.


Virtually instant

Before the internet and the digital age, reference would have to be made to where information originated from. This would involve leafing through volumes, citing sources, often reading whole books to find specific pieces of information. Now people type a word or phrase into Google or any other search engine, and can peruse the information on any given subject virtually instantly. The leap from novice to expert is instantaneous, but it is still good practice to cite sources.

In terms of literary sources, many books have been digitalised as searchable archives online, which can be useful if you’re seeking specific data. Some books don’t even exist as printed words anymore, but as spoken word audio books, and many new articles appear in formats such as podcasts or webinars, which will never become ‘physical’ text. You can still quote from them however and they are often vital sources, for new thinking and research.

An encyclopaedic website such as Wikipedia is a great resource for pretty much any topic, but it is user-moderated and can be edited and updated by anyone. As a resource it’s both invaluable and unreliable – there are many cases where resources and biographies have been tampered with to include information that is misleading. This is particularly true of anything with religious or political connotations, where views are strong and viewpoints are often conflicting. But Wikipedia is often superb on many aspects, such as geographical locations and industrial processes, which can be used to add background detail and facts to writing that may not be freely available elsewhere.


Fact or fiction

If you slavishly follow your sources’ approach and repeat too closely existing information or viewpoints on a subject, then it will be easy to see what you have based the information on. You will be called out for plagiarism. You must triangulate facts, between reputable sources, to distinguish the fact from the fiction. You should also not lazily copy other people’s work and pass it off as your own. There is nothing wrong with reading and digesting information, and reworking it into something new, written from your own perspective, in your own personal style. However, there’s no substitute for writing from experience – it’s important to get to know clients and subjects, so you can write from experience rather than research. The more knowledge you accrue, the broader range of subjects you can write about with assurance.

It’s much more difficult to check or determine if work is being plagiarised nowadays, as the internet is so vast. So many sources are available online and new articles on every subject are being generated every hour of every day. It’s a self-perpetuating, evolving stream of content that can never fully be policed or fact-checked.

Choose carefully where and how you source your information – official technology sites and   governmental sites are usually a reliable and searchable resource on many subjects regarding social and economic issues and legislation, for example. To avoid any kind of plagiarism, the best approach is to carry out any research using more than one source and to ensure that you don’t repeat too closely phraseology and information that is already out there. Or course, the more original and imaginative your take on a subject can be, the more engaging, interesting and enlightening your writing will become for the reader.