10 Tips for Telling if an Article Contains Reliable Information

maginifying glass

Bad content floods the web. It’s so bad that schools are giving out guidelines for sites to avoid when collecting information for reports. Many writers also use the web to research information, but how can we know if it’s someone else’s unreliable content rewritten ten times, or if it’s a realistic investigation or expose?

Perhaps these tips can help:

1. The article contains verifiable and checkable facts

Speculation isn’t fact, it’s speculation. Magazines and reputable websites have fact checkers on hand to check sources and content. Every important bit of information needs back up. If there is no basis for a statement or idea, move to an article written by someone who can put his money where his mouth is and back up his facts with proof. Look for studies, surveys, interviews  as the basis for an article.

2. The article presents a balance of the pros and cons

Even in depth investigations leading to a negative result will list the positive plus the negative. If an article is angry in tone or sounds like a perky sales pitch, you’re not receiving all sides of the story. A good writer will present ALL the facts and let the audience draw their own conclusions.

3. Sources are real people not initials or ” word on the street”

Citing vague sources such as “some people say” or “experts claim” doesn’t prove anything. Who are these people? Who are these experts? Look for specifics, “according a study at the Mayo Clinic…” or “freelance writing blogger Anne Wayman says…” These are sources you can check. You can make sure the facts are correct. Vague information only leads to more vague information. Testimonials by unnamed, anonymous sources only tell you they may not be true. Real names back up real facts.

4. Interviews are conducted with all parties involved

If an article presents interviews backing up one side of the story but glaringly omits interviews backing up the other side of the coin, you have to wonder if the author is stating all the facts. A good writer knows his story won’t be hurt by presenting both the pros and the cons.  In fact, a good writer knows if he leaves out important bits of information, his reputation is on the line.

5. The investigation contains actual information instead of handpicked letters from disgruntled sources

If an “investigation” consists of nothing but quotes or email excerpts from angry, no name people, consider the validity of the argument. A good writer isn’t afraid to interview all parties involved for an article, investigation or report. A good reporter doesn’t shape facts for his benefit. If you’re reading an investigative piece that isn’t fair and balanced, move on to the next article.

6. References are provided

As mentioned above, a reliable article includes references so the reader can verify facts and draw his own conclusion. Sources can include reputable university studies, reports and articles from government organizations, books and articles in well known magazines. Using vague web content on free article sites probably isn’t a good idea because many of these articles are written to create traffic for the writer’s website or blog. Always consider the source and check references before making a decision about whether or not an article contains reliable information.

7. Does the author have an agenda?

Does the article sound like an angry, bitter hate piece? It’s probably not a reliable article. Does it sound like the author is trying to drive traffic or promote a product or service? It’s probably not a reliable piece. If an article seems slanted in one direction or another, you’ll have to ask your self if the author has an agenda. Sometimes it’s so obvious you can spot the agenda a mile away. A good, reliable article will be even in tone without trying to sway the reader to one side or the other. Readers should always be left to make their own decisions.

8. The author of the article has a reputation for presenting fair and balanced information

Certain authors build trust among their readers. Good authors sell newspapers, magazines, books and drive traffic to websites. If an author has a reputation for presenting a fair, balanced and reasonable point of view, it’s easier to trust their articles as containing reliable information. (We’ll get into the different ways to trust a particular writer in an upcoming piece).

9. The article contains information not found on every single other article on the web

You can tell when an article is Googled and rewritten over and over again. The articles all sound the same and all contain the same information. Look for the articles that present new facts and arguments. Look for the articles that are written to inform rather than to bring in advertising revenue.

10. The article is hosted on a website or in a publication with a good reputation for providing quality content

Always consider the source. If the article is hosted on a website you haven’t heard of, research its hiring policies. Does it accept anyone without an audition, or do writers and editors have to submit to testing? Does the website or publication have a good reputation for presenting facts without a lot of spin? These are the sources to trust. Don’t blindly accept an article as fact, always consider the source.

Writers are smart people. We can tell if an article is written in five minutes or if the author has an agenda. We can spot rewritten content a mile away. Always use reliable sources for your research because it’s your reputation on the line. Just because it’s written, doesn’t make it so. Use your gut and get out your magnifying glass. If it smells rotten, it probably is.

Where do you go for your information – and how do you know it’s correct?


  1. says

    Excellent! I wrote “7 Ways To Evaluate Blog Post Quality — Tuning your BS detector” last week and I’m going add this link and an excerpt to that article.

    It’s so cool that your criteria are orthogonal to mine. We have different perspectives. Not competing, complementary!

  2. says

    As a former journalist, I find it refreshing to find writers who take pride in their work and stand by the information they present on the Internet. Sometimes I want to gag when I hear people teaching others how to write articles in 5 or 10 minutes.

    A good writer spends time researching their topic and looking for the best approach to present to readers. That takes time. It also takes time to check your facts and to make sure that what you are writing meets the needs of your audience. I will certainly read this blog again.

  3. Benjamin Mugeri says

    I truely believe that with these ten tip you can never go wrong when writting an accademic essay. some articles are just unreliable out there.


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