Just because it’s published, doesn’t mean it’s true.
When you’re researching, think about the following ten things before you accept what you’re reading:
- Who wrote the piece – What’s their perspective, intention, bias, belief, and so on?
- When it was written – Is the information relevant and accurate to today?
- The methodology – Is it clear and does it cover enough ground to be accurate, consistent & useful?
- Any obvious bias – Is it written in a searching way, or is it trying to persuade you it’s correct?
- References & sources used – Have they covered enough ground and are the sources trustworthy and worthy of use?
- Missing links & blind spots – If something is missing, has it been left out deliberately, or is it merely an oversight?
- Lack of references, generalisation and stating points as if they are facts (but are not) – Are you reading an opinion piece or an academic study?
- Your own understanding & opinion – You should never believe what you read just because it’s in a journal or written by a respected academic. What perspective do you have on the issues under discussion? And have you seen other pieces arguing in a different direction?
- Other works by the same author(s) – What other relevant output could expand upon this? Do they have anything more recent and/or fitting to what you’re researching?
- Reception within the academic community – In some cases, especially for older academic papers, a healthy number of citations probably means you’ve got a respected paper or a highly criticised paper. A quick check on sites like Google Scholar should give a taste of how many times the paper has been cited. You’re also given the titles of those papers, which is handy for finding more relevant reading material. Result!
What do you like to check for when you’re researching?