I have spoken before about taking anything you research on the internet with a grain of salt. So if you can’t trust the internet, how do you decide which aspect of what you find can be used? Well, that is kind of tricky. Let’s start with Wikipedia. The more common the information, the more likely it is that mistakes and misquotes have been corrected. On very obscure topics, there may be only one or two people who have done anything to hone the information and thus the more likely it is to contain errors. Similarly, anything experimental or hypothetical is unlikely to be entirely up to date and accurate. The more cutting edge, the more likely it is that the information is outdated or incorrect.
With that in mind, you can use Wikipedia in a roundabout way. If you have an obscure topic that you need to research, look around the internet for sites relating to it. When names of those who are ‘experts’ get dropped or their books referenced, look those up. Nine times out of ten, there will be an up-to-date wiki page about a given expert and possibly a reference to what they have written with citations. From there you can actually follow the citations to the direct works of the person in question rather than having to rely on second-hand information.
Another possibility for researching by use of the internet is to use your computer to find out which books are the most informative on a given topic and then order the books directly for use in your research. E-books are instant and often less expensive, though if you can afford the wait time there is nothing at all bad about having the physical book in your library.
If all else fails, there is a last resort option. Find an active forum relating to the topic in some way and then fish for the information you need. Pose a question and see who answers. If you mention hoping to find out about authors on the subject or who the experts in the field are, that might gain you even wider circles of information to draw from. Sometimes just having a name can lead you to an email or website to research or directly contact.
Undeniably, the internet is an amazing tool for writers. If the options are between unverifiable research and no information at all then you are no worse off for using the uncertain research. If you can verify it, then you are on much more solid footing. Take the time to research right. Hopefully this posting will help a few of you out there in avoiding the trap of instantly trusting a source and lead you to far more effective internet research.