Understanding Good References for Writers

Bad information spreads on the internet like a virus. If you get incorrect information, you can easily find another source online that will confirm it. In fact, you can get any kind of information you want on the internet. If you want to say that 1+1 equals 11, there is most certainly a site that you could use as a source.

That’s why books from reputable publishers make the best references. They’ve been edited and fact-checked for accuracy.

When you have to use a website for a resource, it is especially important to verify its credibility. It is best to use academic resources and official agencies for specific information, and to double check them against other credible resources.

Common red flags on many websites include:

• Poor grammar and writing
• An obvious political bent
• Hyperbole (“Obvious or intentional exaggeration.” www.dictionary.com)
• Statements that just seem wrong

This is where your instincts come in. Watch out for confirmation bias. This is when you want to believe something is true, and you look for sources that back up your assumptions, rather than for ones that speak to the accuracy of your assumptions.

Making Titles Pop

Titles are a first impression, and you only get one chance to seduce a reader into looking at your copy. Consider the following when writing a title:

• Your title often shows up first on Web search results.
• Your title can make a story seem more or less interesting than it is.
• Your title has to condense your article into very few words.

Luckily, there are several tips you can use for optimizing titles, such as writing the title last (or considering your first title a draft). This allows you to craft a title that truly fits the content. As writers know, articles can take their own direction once the writing actually starts, and thus it can be better to let the article dictate the title.

Secondly, read your title back to yourself. Does it capture the subject of the article well? Does it arouse your curiosity and make you want to read on?

When you read the title, compare it to the article. The title should include the most interesting feature of the article. The main subject of the article should be apparent in the title.

Also, contemplate the verbs you use in the title. Headline writers for news services are masters at this. For example, consider which of the following titles makes you want to read the article more:

• River Water Level Rises, Causes Flood Conditions
• River Surges, Flooding Hazard Grows

The second title’s urgency is heightened by its use of active verbs and exciting words, and therefore, will likely draw in more readers to the same article.