Friday, September 17, 2010

References: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Most articles require references in order to fully cover a subject and for the reader to trust the advice given in the article. With search engines like Google, it has become increasingly easier to get references on just about any topic in the world. But are all references created equal?

As an online writer, one of the most important skills you'll need is the ability to sort out bad references from good ones. The last thing you want is an editor or client discovering a piece of your writing contains errors or isn't backed up by facts. To avoid this, here are some tips on gathering references for online articles (or any article for that matter):
  • Check with .gov, .org and .edu sites first for authority on a subject matter. These are solid references that are trusted above .com or .net sites.
  • Search for professional organizations or societies on a topic. These websites typically go into greater detail and provide facts about a topic that can be hard to find elsewhere online.
  • Check the sources of the particular article. What goes around comes around!
  • Avoid websites with frequent misspellings or grammar mistakes.
  • Stay away from spammy sites that load pages with ads and completely irrelevant information. Websites that sell a product are generally not good sources for references either.
  • Avoid wikipedia. Anyone can edit articles there, so it cannot be trusted as a source of reliable information. If you are hunting for specific information about a subject, a brief look at a wikipedia article may help you discover better terms to search for, but avoid using it as a basis for facts in your article.
  • User-created pages (such as Yahoo! Answers) should be avoided as well, since the information they contained are typically not backed up by reliable sources. Again, you can use these pages for additional insight or better search terms, but do not reference it as fact or use it for the basis of your article.

You can create a special sub-search engine on Google to help weed out unreliable sources. Use Google Custom Search to include one or more websites or specific web pages. Or simply search within the main google search engine using the Advanced Search options. Typing the subject followed by the website directly into the main search bar is another option. (i.e. Plant Database

Remember, your article is only as good as the sources behind it.

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