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Information Connection: How to find authoritative information

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Finding information


  • When you're doing research or looking for information on a particular subject, it's important to know what and where your sources are. You can find encyclopedic information on the Internet, on encyclopedia CDs, and in a good old-fashioned hardbound encyclopedia set. If you don't have these resources at home, there's always your public library.
  • Most of the time, an encyclopedia will give you at least the general facts about your subject. You may have to check other sources for more detailed information. Your next move should be to books on the subject.
    If you don't plan to keep the book, write in it, highlight in it, or otherwise personalize it, you can check it out from your library--if they have it. And you'll be able to use the book for a couple of weeks before needing to return it. Or, buy the book and then donate it to your library when you're done with your research. 
  • After you've selected several books for background information, check the magazines either directly related to your subject-- or those carrying articles on the subject. Most of the time, you'll find magazines will provide you with more up-to-date and timely information than books will.
  • To find information on your subject in magazines, look in the Reader's Guide To Periodical Literature at your library. This guide is very useful. Under subject and author headings, the complete collection of this guide will list articles printed in magazines since the turn of the century. The Suggestions For Use section will instruct you on how to read the codes under each heading. If you can't find your subject listed, think of similar subjects that might be related.
  • If your subject is part of a particular field of study, there may be a special index that will help you. Among these special indexes, you'll find: Art Index, Business Periodicals Index, Consumers Index, Education Index, Humanities Index, Social Sciences Index, Biological and Agricultural Index, and Applied Sciences and Technology Index. You'll even find a Popular Periodicals Index which lists articles that have appeared in currently popular magazines.
  • If it's a legal topic you are after, go to your local law library.
  • To find information on the US Tax Code, visit (or call 1-800-INSANE).
  • Most newspapers are goldmines of reference material--but you have to be careful to sift the leftist propaganda and spin from real information and that's not easy to do when reading most papers. Most of the big city newspapers have computerized indexes. Several of the special national newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal also have reference indexes, and the Journal is noted for good, objective reporting.
  • The New York Times Index is worth a visit, but remember this paper is extremely left-leaning and not concerned with objective journalism. The index is a collection of indexes of all newspaper articles, so you aren't stuck with just the bad editorial the Times engages in--you can get bad editorial from many newspapers!
  • Newspaper indexes list subjects and people alphabetically with the date and page number. And usually with the number of columns devoted to that particular story. About all you have to do to avail yourself of this information is to stop by the newspaper office, tell them the kind of information you're looking for, and ask their help in locating it within their index. Then, sit down with a box of salt grains and read.
  • Facts on File is a world news digest that's at most public libraries. This is a weekly publication  broken down into four categories: World Affairs, U.S. Affairs, Other Nations, and Miscellaneous. You may feel rather broken down yourself, after wading through all this....
  • Editorials on File is a similar service that comes out twice each month. It is a survey of newspaper editorials that span a wide range of subjects. If you want to know about business trends, you should ask for and look at the Moody's Reports. These cover banking and finance, industry, and public utilities. Most large public libraries also keep pamphlet files for brochures from various information services and government agencies. Be sure to ask about these.

People as sources

  • People can be good sources of information (they can also be the worst, so select carefully). Ask around and more often than not, you'll find someone right in your own area who is well versed on your subject and can speak on it objectively. An introductory phone call and an explanation as to why you're researching the subject will almost always lead you to many people who will be glad to talk with you. A trip to the Yellow Pages can get you started.
  • Interviewing and talking with people will give you the chance to ask questions and hear specific explanations about the details that may not be fully covered in a book, newspaper or other publication.
  • When interviewing, your questions should be open-ended--those which do not allow for a simple yes or no. You should get the people you're talking with to discuss their experiences relative to the subject. Pose hypothetical situations, asking what they would do or what would happen under a given set of circumstances.

Sifting through it

Researching and gathering information on a particular subject can be fun, exciting and informative.  It's much like putting a jigsaw puzzle together; the closer you get to completing the picture, the more excited you become.

Many people find that when they begin a research project on a specific subject, they quickly uncover so many interesting related subjects that it's hard to confine their enthusiasm to just the one subject. This is what learning is all about, regardless of the use you eventually make of the information you gather. The more you learn, the more you want to learn.

Now, here's a warning. Most people form their views based on a phenomenon called "group conformity." They then look for "facts" to support the views of their group. This is not proper research. It also leads you to lend authority to non-authoritative sources and thus creates a situation where you are disinformed rather than informed. You will have to make a conscious effort not to do this, unless you are more concerned with conforming to your group than with discovering the truth. You can still belong to your group, even if you disagree--remember that, you will have an easier time of not surrendering your thought process to others.

How can you tell good information from bad? Well, you can actually get a degree in this area of expertise. So, this little article isn't going to tell you all you need to know. But one key is to look for inconsistencies in the information. Another is to look for fallacious reasoning, such as the ever-popular cause and effect relationship that isn't there. Look for emotional language--this is a cue that the writer doesn't believe the facts can stand on their own.



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