Before diving into the vast ocean of information at your fingertips, take a deep breath. Ask yourself, “How important is it to get this answer right?”

In fact, ask yourself three questions.

Is more or less correct good enough?

  • For a double chocolate chip cookie recipe or book review, Google is your friend. If the recipe does not actually produce the “world’s best chocolate chip cookies ever” or the book did not “keep you up to the last page” – no big loss.
  • When deciding whether to try the new restaurant in town, social media is a great place to check. Barring food poisoning or a totally ruined date, getting bad information, in this case, is, again, no big loss.
  • To find out if the funny looking mole on your arm (that keeps bleeding) is something to worry about, pass Google, pass social media, go straight to somebody with advanced training. (I’m saying you should go see your doctor.) If you have melanoma and trust a random post on Google, it could be a big loss indeed.

Is anybody’s health or well-being depending on the answer?

This category includes your physical, spiritual, and mental health. It also includes your academic and economic well-being. If the answer is yes, this could affect my grade, my job, my life choices, or my family’s health, take the time to find the best source of information or advice.

Before trusting information, identify who created it, when it was created, why it was created, and if it really addresses your problem or topic.

  • Look for information from somebody who has extensive training in, and experience with, the topic. “The guy who posted it said it worked for him” is not a good reason to risk the aforementioned health and well-being.
  • Try the refrigerator mystery meat test. If you don’t know how long it’s been in there, where it came from, or what exactly that green stuff is, it’s probably best to choose something else for lunch.
  • Check out the university library for reliable information written by experts to help with research in just about any subject.
  • Librarians can point you in the right direction if you are unsure where or how to look, for timely, relevant, authoritative, objective information. To quote author Linton Weeks, “In the nonstop tsunami of global information, librarians provide us with floaties and teach us to swim.”

If I have to say where I got this information, will I sound like a reasonable person or a conspiracy theorist?

  • Pet socks will be the next big fad! Invest now. No, wait. I just made that up. But it sounds good, doesn’t it?
  • Professors and bosses have an uncomfortable habit of wanting to know where information came from. Be ready. Hint: “My best friend’s dad” or “this blog I saw” is not the answer they are looking for.
  • Look skeptically (or not at all) at information from people or websites that are trying to sell you something.
  • View with caution information from anybody who is trying to push a particular viewpoint. Do they have an ulterior motive? Are they cherry-picking evidence to fit their opinion? Are they the only source with this unique viewpoint, or do other authorities in the field agree?

Information influences the decisions we make in life. For those times when getting the answer right matters, choose your sources wisely.

The University of Mary Hardin-Baylor offers dozens of undergraduategraduate, and doctoral programsStop by for a visit to see if UMHB is the right school for you.