In the latest SBA poll, our users identified locating free information, and knowing whether or not that information is reliable, as their two biggest challenges when it comes to business research. With that in mind, this blog post provides strategies, recommended by information professionals, to help you determine which information is quality information.
Let's imagine you have just found what looks like the perfect information source. Here are a few questions to ask before you go ahead and use it.
Who is the author?
Determining who the author is and what their credentials are can give you hints about the quality of the information. Are they a journalist, a professor or a business owner? Do they have expertise in the topic area? Today tools like Linkedn offer useful way assess an author's reputation and affiliations. If no author is listed, perhaps the resource was created by a corporation, institution or government body. Just as with an individual author, consider the goals or purpose of the organization before you trust their data. If there is no author or organization associated with the resource be suspicious!
How does the author know?
A good resource will generally recognize where their information comes from. Research studies and reports should indicate whether data was collected from experiments or participants. Magazine and news articles commonly refer to interview subjects or survey data. In some cases the information will be valuable because the author is an expert in their field. Information sources should be clearly indicated and verifiable.
Hint: Look out for unsubstantiated claims.
What is their motivation for sharing the information?
Ideally, you will want to find objective information. The information that you gathered on the author or organization will help you with this. Always check the website or publications "about" information to find out what their goals are. If you are looking at research studies consider who funded the study. For example a study on the benefits of sugar funded by a sugar producing company may be biased. One way to avoid this is to seek out information from a variety of sources.
Hint: Be suspicious of articles that use over enthusiastic or inflammatory language.
Ask yourself what angles were not addressed or included.
Do other sources say the same thing?
Whenever possible check more than one source of information. Looking at multiple data sources will help to confirm that the information you have found is accurate as well as provide you with a broader view.
Hint: Use trade associations, government websites and news sources to find information on your industry. By comparing the information in these sources you will get a more complete and unbiased picture.
Is the information current?
If you are conducting research for a business plan, it is essential that it is current up-to-date information. Always check when the article or website was published or updated to ensure that you are finding the most current data.
These questions should get you started assessing the quality of your information resources. It is important to keep in mind that business research is a multi-step process. It is extremely rare to find all or even 50% of the data you need from one resource. You will most likely have to look at a number of sources to gain a comprehensive understanding of your industry, competitors or consumers. Don't forget the Small Business Accelerator is here to help you find the information you need, for free. Each of our Accelerator Guides are filled with links to free and reliable information sources!
References & Additional Resources:
Evaluating Information Sources from University of British Columbia Library
Evaluating Internet Information from Virginia Tech
Evaluating Web Pages: Techniques to Apply and Questions to Ask from the Berkeley Libraries
Finding and Evaluating Resources from the University of Alberta Libraries
For information about SBA blog authors please visit the SBA About page.