How to search for information?

Information is all around us and in great supply. We just need to go to the internet and put a word in a search engine and thousands of results will appear. So, the question is not if information will be available, but which information should we pay attention to. We can guide ourselves through 4 criteria: if it is reliable, if it is relevant, if it is accurate, and if it is updated.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, something is reliable if it “[gives] the same result on successive trials” 45762-200. Nowadays, we are constantly hearing about “fake news”. However, this concept is not new. Propaganda, counter-information… even marketing and advertising have ways to make people believe in things that are not true. Or at least, not entirely. Navigating between lies and figure out what it is true requires to check the sources and compare the same information with other sources. How many sources? As many as you can handle. Take newspapers, for example. There are those whose articles are written just to sell and others that focus on thorough investigation. And even in the case of the latter, you should compare the information just the same. People who produce information can get something wrong or information can just be incomplete. See if they have published some sources of information they used, go and check them (non-fictional books usually have a list of sources at the end).

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, something is relevant if it “[has] significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand” 45762-200. Relevance is about whether the information that you are collecting is really related with what you are looking for. For example, if you are looking for information about tigers and you come across information about roses, you should ignore it and just move on. This example is pretty straightforward, but it is not always the case. Some information may seem to be irrelevant for your topic, but later you can found out it is not. This is the basis of every great detective story. You need to make the connections, if there are any.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, something is accurate if it is “going to, reaching, or hitting the intended target” 45762-200. Accuracy is related with precision. For example, saying that tigers are animals is not very accurate. Although it is true that tigers are indeed animals, it fails to say what kind of animal it is: do they fly, run, live underwater?… The level of detail you need will depend on your goal. If you are just differentiating plants from animals, saying that tigers are animals will be enough. Otherwise, you may need to specify where they usually live, what they eat, what different species there are. Be as specific as you need to be.

Finally, information has to be up-to-date. For example, if you are looking to know what the relationship between the Earth and the Sun is and you are reading a document from the 16th century, you will learn that the sun rotates around the Earth. There has been a lot of research since then. Therefore, you need to make sure you are reading the latest developments about your subject. Otherwise, your information might just be wrong.


Check other “How to…?” related to project management.


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