If you’re reading this, you know that I write a lot of online content on tax, financial, and legal matters. My posts can be found regularly on my website as well as on several other sites, including SBA.gov, SmallBizTrends, AmericanExpress OPEN, and Investopedia.
I do most of the research for my writing online, and I want to gripe about some of the problems I run into. I’m doing this because I suspect I’m not the only one with complaints, and I hope to inspire others who write for online sites to shape up or drop out.
Nobody is perfect and anyone can make a mistake (goodness knows I’ve had my share of errata over my long career). But I have found a lot of misinformation online that I suspect is not just a careless slip up from some from purported “experts” on a particular subject. The recent Rolling Stone scandal is one kind of mistake (characterize it as shoddy journalism or outright fraud?). Poor writing and erroneous conclusions are other problems.
Solution: Fact-checking information and an editorial review are helpful to weed out blatant errors.
Many posts have no date to indicate when they were written. This can lead me and other readers to incorrect information because things change. For me (writing about taxes), many numbers change annually, so older articles often refer to outdated limitations and thresholds.
Solution: Duh … add a date so the reader has context for the information.
When a topic is hot, I’ve seen a fact or statistic mentioned in numerous places. (It’s almost like the old telephone game where the information gets repeated and repeated, and sometimes is transformed in the process.) Unfortunately, far too few specify where the information came from. In one case (that I don’t want to elaborate on), I recall a statistic repeated every time the topic was covered by a different media outlet, yet the original source of that statistic was questionable. Without a link to the source of information, it’s difficult for me and other readers to know whether information can be trusted.
Solution: Hotlink information to its source.
I am continually offered articles by “experts” for posting on my site. However, I have maintained a policy of only posting my own content on my website, in part because of concerns about editorial control over outside submissions. I don’t have the time or staff to editorially check submissions.
My advice to readers: employ some skepticism about anything you read and, when relying on information, verify it through other sources. And if you find a mistake in anything I write, please bring it to my attention so I can post a correction.