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Friday, December 27, 2013

Analyze This!

Okay – so this was also the title of a comedy starring Billy Crystal and Robert De Niro, and Lisa Kudrow, but it all kinda fits together.  Bear with me as I explain or “Analyze This.”

My topic is actually about research, specifically research that is conducted via the internet and more specifically via search engines.  You might think that when you query via a search engine that you will receive information that is “untainted” by the process or search engine that you are using for that query.  Well, that’s mostly untrue.

Why is this so important?

Writers often depend on research for their work and stories abound about how readers have challenged writers whose research was incorrect, so writers need to be prepared to properly defend their work, even fiction writers, should a reader decide to challenge the research used to develop the written work in question.

When any of us use search engines, especially the more robust and behind-the-scenes analytical search engines, we are providing lots of information about ourselves and the topics we are interested in researching.  Based on this information and the pattern of our queries over time, the more robust search engines will actually try to help us along, sometimes to our detriment.

You have to stop and understand what the money-making agenda is for most search engine companies, and that agenda is often a strong revenue stream from advertising.  So, if someone is paying money to a company, that is providing the search engine, for the specific purpose of finding customers, then that is typically the priority of that search-engine provider.  You may still receive valuable information via the search engine you use but you have to understand that the results are ranked based on a number of variables and one of those variables is advertising.   

Yes, advertisements will be displayed to the side, along the top, the bottom, etc., but often the query results that appear to be unbiased are also part of driving customers to a sponsor’s website.  This is not necessarily a bad thing but just something you, as a writer, need to be aware of when you are conducting research on the internet.  Not all information is untainted by spin or the need for a company, or a person, to sell you goods or services.

So, what do you do?  You learn how search engines work and you use multiple search engines to compare results.  You also need to dig deep into the background of any websites you visit as a result of your search engine queries.  I routinely look at the About Us page of websites I visit. It’s amazing what information you do and do not find when you dig deep into the faces behind the web pages you visit.  It’s also telling if there isn’t an About Us page and if it is buried so deep it’s difficult to find.

It’s easy to assume that everything posted on the internet is truthful, legit or vetted for inaccuracies but this is simply not true.  If you are going to rely on the information you discover via a search engine or a website then you, as a writer, need to do your due diligence in vetting those sources.

To get started on what a search engine is and just how many different ones have come and gone, read the article at via the link below:

Notice that at the bottom of the article there are numerous references that you can further research and that were used for in support of this article.

I also found the posting at this site as food for thought:

Oh, yeah – the reference to the movie?  Well, if you’ve seen it, and it was released in 1999, you’ll know that part of the plot line is that the patient is a mobster (played by De Niro) who has anxiety attacks and approaches a psychiatrist (played by Crystal) and the mobster just wants the “doc” to fix his problem and fix it quickly, but the “doc” wants to dig deeper to resolve the real issues and not just the symptoms.  That’s kinda how researching on the internet works – you have to dig deeper to get to the truth, hopefully with less chaos than what goes on in the movie.


  1. I always try to consider the source when I research on the Internet. If I'm not sure of it, I don't use it!

    Morgan Mandel

  2. Some other things to consider when doing research: "Truth" differs from one person to the next. I'm an historian by training. I look at research as follows:

    First, there is a FACT of something happening--World War II, the Great Depression, whatever.

    Then there are historians' INTERPRETATIONS of how and why that fact came about. Different may have different interpretations about that. For example, the cause of the US Civil War.

    THEN there are the OPINIONS, sometimes based on the interpretations, sometimes on pure fancy.

    So, when you're researching, Internet or not, look at all the sides that you can.

    And, if you're writing fiction, see and use what you need for your story, but expect someone to complain that "it" just couldn't have happened that way. Be prepared to say, "But, it could have!"