Once upon a time, the world was flat.
Now it’s round.
Who knows? Maybe some day we’ll find out it’s square.
It’s hard to come across a cold hard fact anymore.
Drink 8 glasses of water a day. Drink 16 glasses of water a day. Don’t drink any water; get all your water from fruits and vegetables.
The contradictory advice goes on forever. There’s almost nothing you can nail down with absolute certainty.
Even your own content.
When you’re writing a game-changing piece of content, it’s natural to want to nail that article down with irrefutable data. So you spend seventeen hours to come up with data from books, white papers, and online sources.
But your research is tainted
No matter how hard you work to nail down the facts, you’re going to run into accuracy problems.
That’s because your information sources aren’t entirely reliable. Even if the source is reliable, the information may not be.
For example, a magazine may accurately report the findings of a study, but who says the study results are actually correct?
Here are just a few ways your research can become tainted:
- Research is often funded by lobby groups pushing their own agendas.
- Passed-down information can lose relevant bits.
- What was once fact has since been overturned by new evidence.
Let’s look at them one by one.
Problem 1: Research may not be objective
Let’s say a lobby group wants to increase sales of lemonade. They fund research to find more reasons for you to drink lemonade. They pour squillions of dollars into their research, and amazingly enough, all that research comes to the same conclusion: lemonade has amazing health benefits.
Of course, that’s not how the research is presented to you.
The research is presented in an interesting, fact-driven way that makes you believe it. Given a slew of reasonable-sounding facts and a truckload of statistics, and most of us will change our perception.
That’s not to say lobby groups are bad people. They’re just like you and me.
We tell our kids to eat spinach because it will make them big and strong. Doesn’t matter if the spinach doesn’t actually have the nutrients to get kids big and strong. Doesn’t matter if we’ve cooked the goodness out of the spinach. The kids swallow the idea — and hopefully the spinach. We all present information in the best light.
And when we add figures and facts, it becomes something written in stone.
Except it’s not written in stone. It’s not cold, hard fact. It’s just one view, one presentation of the data.
Problem 2: Hand-me down facts
Use tea bags to polish hardwood floors. Mix turmeric and honey in hot water and drink it for a cough. Use the underside of a ceramic mug to put an edge on that dull kitchen knife.
These are hand-me down facts. They work — but do they work just the way they’re written? Did the author leave out a piece of critical information in the re-telling? Perhaps you have to steep the tea bags for a certain amount of time. Maybe you have to be careful to get the exact correct angle between your knife and that ceramic mug.
Facts often develop holes over time.
As stories get handed down, they lose information. The main part of the story may be true, but misleading without key pieces of information that go with it. The only way to be sure it to check for yourself. You take those tea bags and polish a part of your hardwood floor. If the floors shine, you’ve got a personal story of your own to tell.
Hand-me-down data looks valid, but unless you’ve proved it yourself, you’re quoting unproven research.
And that takes us to the final problem: The data keeps changing.
Problem 3: Facts evolve
As recently as 1980, most neuroscientists would tell you with confidence that the brain had no meaningful plasticity.
Plasticity means that the brain is adaptable. That it can heal damage from strokes, accidents, and other horrible things, and that it can change and adapt after the critical period of childhood.
There’s now research (yeah, I’m aware of the irony in referencing research in this article) that all areas of the brain can change and evolve even in adulthood. Destroyed function can be “re-routed” to other areas of the brain. And intense mental activity (like studying for med school exams) can change the brain in measurable ways in a matter of weeks.
I want you to understand one thing: these original nay-sayers were neuroscientists. They live, breathe, and map their entire careers around research about how the brain works. Some of the smartest people on the planet. And they were wrong.
Today, neuroplasticity is an irrefutable fact.
But who’s to know what will come around the corner?
Does this mean you shouldn’t research your articles?
Not at all. Research matters. Facts matter.
All I’m saying is that it isn’t necessary to spend all those hours tracking down facts. Often, the facts you find are only half-right, or they’re just a part of greater truths to be revealed.
Go ahead and do your research, but put on an egg timer. If you don’t get what you’re looking for in about 20 minutes, it’s time to get your own facts together.
Don’t make up facts that aren’t true, but tell us your own experience.
It’s better to simply write what you know. Not only does it make for a good story, you can be secure that what you’re saying is really true.
Research makes things interesting, but your own case studies are just as interesting. So don’t be bashful. Use your personal stories and experiences more often — you don’t need fifteen sources and two experts to back you up.
You might be wrong
Sure, you may be wrong about the way you interpret what you experience.
The neuroscientists were wrong too. So were all the smart, educated people who insisted the world was flat. There have been countless geniuses who insisted on theories that would ultimately prove to be wrong.
Research won’t save you from being wrong. It’ll just get in the way of telling your story — and that’s more important than having irrefutable facts.
Especially because the facts are never irrefutable. No matter how much research you do.