This morning, I read an online article about narcissism yet decided reading-womannot to share it for two very important reasons:

1. The information within the article was incorrect.

2. No research was cited at all.

Despite those two facts, the article was heavily shared on social networks. The current trend is to call anything like self-esteem a “form of narcissism” or simplifying the ubiquitous selfie to “absolute narcissism,” which explains the high volume of social shares and comments the article received.

As a professional editor with a background in communications (emphasis on journalism), I felt compelled to write a few lines about how to sift through information and how to find those shining gleams of well-written, informative research.

Here are a few tips on how to read an online article. (Note: You need not read everything online this way. A hilarious article, an essay on birds, a recipe for macaroons, etc. do not need to be analyzed. Unless you’re me. Then you end up analyzing everything.)

  • Skim the article first.
    If you skim the piece, you’ll be able to tell if the piece is well-written, which often, but not always, signifies clarity of thought. Some horrible ideas are expressed clearly, so clarity does not mark the article as possessing good information. You just don’t want to waste time on a convoluted piece.
  • Check for links.
    An online article that makes bold assertions, such as “so-and-so said this” or that “12% of whatsits did this,” should link to that information. Don’t believe so-and-so said it unless you have data proving that the person did say it. A research piece should allow you information to read further and provide links to do so.
  • Check the quality of those links.
    If you’ve ever written a school report on deadline and with minimal resources, you know that you can come up with statistics and quotes from the worst sources. So can online authors. For example, information gleaned from Psychology Today may weigh more heavily than information about personality disorders taken from a magazine about cooking.
  • Read the article again. This time, read it slowly and take time to consider the information there. Picture it like a meal: Instead of wolfing it down, savor and reflect on the overall taste and experience.
  • Read more than one article on a subject.
    If you read a fantastic article about gaslighting from one source and you find new bits of information in it, make sure to read more about the same subject. Unfortunately, many people read one article about a subject and assume knowledge of it. For example: I don’t know a lot about snowboarding, but during the Winter Olympics, I formed opinions about some snowboarders… though I know nothing about the sport. I had to give myself a mental shake and remind myself that what I know about snowboarding is: snow is involved and so is a board. 
  • Read a lot and read often.
    When you regularly read some newspapers, blogs, websites, etc., you start to know which sources are reliable, which authors have solid information, which ones to avoid, etc. Also, you’ll know enough about the subject to have your BS detector go off if something seems suspicious.

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