Using The Internet: What is True, What is Untrue?

Internet access can be a real advantage for the busy article writer. It’s like having a vast online library at your fingertips – open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Use it wisely and it can boost your sales. But rely on it too heavily and it could be your downfall.

So how do you make the Internet work for you? It can be an excellent source of facts, ideas, addresses and contacts, but do not trust that its wealth of information is 100% accurate. It’s easy to be in the midst of writing, and then, needing some important piece of information, rely on a quick click of the mouse to find what you need, without checking its authenticity. In short, it’s easy to go wrong.

The key lies in knowing which facts to trust. We need to follow our facts back to their original source, and while some of this can be done on the internet, care does need to be taken. For example, when I was researching the origins of a particular type of tea, I found lots of material on the websites of the companies that make it.

The problem was, each well known manufacturer related a different (sometimes wildly different, and occasionally amusing) history. All agreed the tea was created hundreds of years ago, but beyond this, the facts were in dispute. I will still use this material, but now these discrepancies will become the main focus of the article. This can be a useful angle to remember if you ever encounter this problem, although it’s wise to make sure that the change of focus won’t make the article unsuitable for your intended market.

Researching from the comfort of your desk seems like a big time saver, as it eliminates the need for trips to the library, or days out to the places you are writing about, thus giving you more time to write. A good thing? Not necessarily. I recently researched a piece on an Essex lock – a picturesque area steeped in history, much of which was available on the internet, along with extensive photos. But having visited the place myself, I will be able to add some personal touches to the article, and offer some of my own photos to back it up. Any article written with this kind of personal input will have more authority than one created from material already published – and therefore be more likely to meet with acceptance.

You may also find you obtain enough information and photographs on the subject to produce more than one article – sometimes on a completely different subject. I can remember returning from a research trip once, and spotting a car in a skip – yes, actually in it – sitting in a driveway. A quick stop for a picture or two, and the well-captioned result was sold very easily to a magazine the following week. Had I relied on the Internet for research, I would never have seen the car, and would not have got the extra sale. The moral is, don’t let the Internet become your support system, to the exclusion of all else.

Search subjects can lead to websites run by individuals as well as ones for large organizations. These can be fertile ground to explore, but again, double check all sources. The big advantage of individually run websites is that they can provide you with opinions, which can put an extra ‘spark’ in your piece. Let’s go back to my article on tea. Perhaps someone has a website in which they claim their great grandfather drank a cup of that same tea every day of his life and lived to the age of 120. Not easy to prove, but it could still be used to provide an interesting article opening.

You can also use the Internet to find further sources of reading, and to obtain books for your specialist subjects. Think of it as a springboard to gain more information. Websites may give snail mail addresses for obtaining leaflets, free magazines, maps, and so on.

And when you’re stumped, use the Internet to get some fresh ideas. Websites for writers may list publications you haven’t heard of; get hold of some copies and study them for new material. Look up your favorite subjects and find some new and unusual angles to write about. Put the most mundane words you can think of into a search engine. You will be surprised what turns up. That’s how I started my research on that article about tea. The Internet also makes it easier to glean information from other countries, which in itself can provide ideas for other related articles.

In short, confirm the authenticity of what you find, and let the Internet be a starting point – not the beginning, middle and end.

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