2.5 Using Reliable Sources

[Author removed at request of original publisher] and Linda Macdonald

Learning Objectives

By the end of this chapter, you should be able to

  • Identify issues with Google searches
  • Conduct a Boolean search using library databases

Unlike writing for personal or academic purposes, your business writing will help determine how well you succeed in your job. Whether you are writing for colleagues within your workplace, outside vendors, or customers, you will want to build a solid, well-earned, and favorable reputation for yourself through your writing. Your goal is to maintain and enhance your credibility, and that of your organization, at all times.

Make sure as you start your investigation that you always question the credibility of the information. Sources may have no reviews by peers or an editor, and the information may be misleading, biased, or even false. Be a wise information consumer.

Giving Credit to Your Sources

Whether your material is a photograph, text, a chart or graph, or any other form of media, taking someone else’s work and representing it as your own is plagiarism. Plagiarism is committed when you copy material verbatim, paraphrase its wording, or take its ideas without giving credit to the source.

If you are completing a report for a client and fail to provide accurate attribution, it can have a negative impact on you and your organization. That is why it is important that when you find an element you would like to incorporate in your document, you need to immediately note the source in a complete enough form to find it again.

Giving credit where credit is due will build your credibility and enhance your document. Moreover, when your writing is authentically yours, your audience will catch your enthusiasm, and you will feel more confident in the material you produce. Just as you have a responsibility in business to be honest in selling your product or service and avoid cheating your customers, so too do you have a responsibility in business writing to be honest in presenting your idea and the ideas of others and to avoid cheating your readers with plagiarized material.

Challenges of Online Research

The Internet is an amazing source of information, but for that very reason, it is a difficult place to get information you actually need. In the early years of the Internet, there was a sharp distinction between a search engine and a Web site. There were many search engines competing with one another, and their home pages were generally fairly blank except for a search field where the user would enter the desired search keywords or parameters. Many search sites exist today, but a few search engines have come to dominate the field, including Google, Bing, and Baidu. Moreover, most search engines’ home pages offer a wide range of options beyond an overall Web search; buttons for options such as news, maps, images, and videos are typical. Another type of search engine performs a metasearch, returning search results from several search engines at once (Dogpile, for example, performs metasearches).

When you are looking for a specific kind of information, these relatively general searches can lead you far away from your desired results.  Specialized online databases are available for almost every industry, profession, and area of scholarship; some are available to anyone, others are free but require opening an account, and some require paying a subscription fee. Your university provides you with access to subscription services and the specialized tools you need for research in Business. The following slides introduce you to advanced online research skills.

Slides adapted from H5P 12681 by Chandra Hodgson (2020) licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA

Evaluating Your Sources

One aspect of Internet research that cannot be emphasized enough is the abundance of online information that is incomplete, outdated, misleading, or downright false. Anyone can put up a Web site; once it is up, the owner may or may not enter updates or corrections on a regular basis. Anyone can write a blog on any subject, whether or not that person actually has any expertise on that subject. Anyone who wishes to contribute to a Wikipedia article can do so—although the postings are moderated by editors who have to register and submit their qualifications. It is always important to look beyond the surface of a site to assess who sponsors it, where the information displayed came from, and whether the site owner has a certain agenda.

When you write for business and industry you will want to draw on reputable, reliable sources—printed as well as electronic ones—because they reflect on the credibility of the message and the messenger. Analyzing and assessing information is an important skill in the preparation of writing. In general, documents that represent quality reasoning have the following traits:

  • A clearly articulated purpose and goal
  • A question, problem, or issue to address
  • Information, data, and evidence that is clearly relevant to the stated purpose and goals
  • Inferences or interpretations that lead to conclusions based on the presented information, data, and evidence
  • A frame of reference or point of view that is clearly articulated
  • Assumptions, concepts, and ideas that are clearly articulated

An additional consideration is how credible the source is. This question is difficult to address even with years of training and expertise. Academics have long cultivated an understood acceptance of the role of objective, impartial use of the scientific method to determine validity and reliability. But as research is increasingly dependent on funding, and funding often brings specific points of view and agendas with it, pure research can be—and has been—compromised. You can no longer simply assume that “studies show” something without awareness of who conducted the study, how it was conducted, and who funded the effort.

For example, if you were researching electronic monitoring in the workplace, you might come upon a site owned by a company that sells workplace electronic monitoring systems. The site might give many statistics illustrating what percentage of employers use electronic monitoring, what percentage of employees use the Internet for non-work purposes during work hours, what percentage of employees use company e-mail for personal messages, and so on. But the sources of these percentage figures may not be credited. As an intelligent researcher, you need to ask yourself, did the company that owns the site perform its own research to get these numbers? Most likely it did not—so why are the sources not cited? Moreover, such a site would be unlikely to mention any court rulings about electronic monitoring being unnecessarily invasive of employees’ privacy. Less biased sources of information would be the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, the Canada Labour Code, and nonprofit organizations looking at safety and security.

To access reliable sources, use your Library’s Business, Management, or Commerce subject guides. These guides direct you to reliable sources

It may seem like it’s hard work to assess your sources and to make sure your information is accurate and truthful, but the effort is worth it. Business and industry rely on reputation and trust (just as individuals do) in order to maintain healthy relationships. Each of your business documents, regardless of how small it may appear in the larger picture, is an important part of that reputation and interaction.

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2.5 Using Reliable Sources by [Author removed at request of original publisher] and Linda Macdonald is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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