Have you ever diagnosed yourself with a rare form of kneecap cancer, or followed DIY instructions for a homemade satellite dish that resulted in a minor explosion?
The internet has a funny way of assuming authority on subjects it knows nothing about.
I remember my first peek behind the curtain: I had just finished my first submission as a ghostwriter on calendar spread stock options. Specifically, how and when they should be used.
I still, to this day, have no idea what a calendar spread is.
Almost anyone can do research on a topic they know nothing about, and write a high-quality, well-informed, accurate article. I’ve done it, and almost everyone who has attended any sort of educational facility has done it.
However, many articles online are simply regurgitations of other articles.
My project managers gave me the following writing guidelines:
- Repeat primary keyword 4-6 times
- Link to 4-6 other websites
- Use 3-4 headlines
- Use 1-2 bullet-point lists
I still follow this system today (mostly). Honestly, there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. The problem, in my opinion, lies with how information is gathered.
The informational downward spiral
I’m a nerd, so I don’t need an excuse to research anything. I love facts.
After building a few blogs, and finally delving into the world of freelancing, I realized how easy it would be to write a completely false, yet authoritative article.
I could purchase a domain name with a site titled “International Blogging Headquarters” and begin writing articles about how to absolutely nail your next post. Throw in a few stock images and add 18 years of professional blogging experience in the bio, and all of a sudden I’m an expert.
This, alone, isn’t terrible. If enough people are producing factual articles, this should stand out as inaccurate information.
The problem lies with ghostwriters like me who get paid $3 per 1,000 words. We find this site’s post titled “Five Best Blogging Practices” and we use it in our article titled “Seven Best Blogging Practices”. Now, we have repeated faulty information. If yet another ghostwriter uses both articles as a source for “Ten Best Blogging Practices”, we’ve repeated a lie often enough for it to be considered true.
Nobody really knows where the information came from, but everyone is in agreement so it must be fact.
Why the cycle can’t be broken
There are many, many credible authors who take pride in their work and use credible sources for their writing.
But in the ghostwriting world, you’re given 6 hours to write 1,000 words on a topic you’ve never heard of.
There is no realistic way to thoroughly research the topic, nor is there any incentive to do so. Just find a few articles that all say the same thing, and mash them up into something new enough to pass the plagiarism checker, but consistent enough to match linked sources.
In the process, you’re just adding one more faulty source to the pile for the next ghostwriter who comes along.
If you love research, like me, I cannot stress how important it is to thoroughly vet your sources. Not only for writing purposes, but for everyday Google searches.
Unfortunately, since producing credible work takes significantly more resources, you might end up paying for information.
One old-fashioned workaround is your friendly neighborhood library. Many local libraries subscribe to online archives, historical sites, and educational resource centers with credible information. You can gain access by simply signing up for a library card.
You may also consider reading an actual book. So much of our research is done online in our modern world, that we’ve forgotten the value of print and paper. While books aren’t guaranteed to be true, either, they jump through significantly more editorial hoops for the honor of a binding.
Don’t ignore your own experience
No matter how much we know, there’s always more to learn. However, don’t ignore your own life experiences when doing research. If you have successfully grown prize-winning tomatoes every year for your county fair, then write a post based on your experience. Don’t doubt yourself, Google it, and then write a conglomerate mashed potato.
Which leads me to: write what you know. This is an age-old rule, but it’s so much more important in our tech-heavy universe. I had no idea if the advice I gave on stock options was accurate, because it was all new to me. However, I could write a post about crocheting a replica antique doily in my sleep. Stick to what you know.
Mind you, I did not say to never learn new things. Just don’t write about subjects you know nothing about as if you’re a well of information.
Finally, let’s reintroduce common sense into our internet browsing. The people on the other side of the screen are not some magical artificial intelligence. They’re just regular people, like me.
Which leaves you in a rather odd predicament, doesn’t it?