Getting the Facts: Assessing the Quality of Information

This week, Martin O’Brien discusses the basics of information assessment.

Information is important in every aspect of our personal and business life and is integral to how we make decisions. Even those who are inclined to make decisions on instinct are influenced by information previously encountered. These days, people with smartphones or internet connection have access to more information than was readily available at any other time in history. However, in a world saturated by questionable information and sensational soundbites, it has become increasingly difficult to separate fact from falsehoods.

Speculative information

Following a significant event, a terrorist attack, for example, speculative information is often what is immediately prevalent. Early commentary is heavily laced with supposition based on a cascading series of assumptions. This is at the lower end of what could be considered useful information.

 Misinformation – (Unintentional)

Some information may be false or misleading due to inadequate analysis or cumulative errors in information circulating from one person to another. Sometimes this is known as daisy chain information, often unintentional on the part of the distributor and may be a reflection of poor communication skills or unconscious bias. The most basic scrutiny will generally be sufficient to reveal the lack of substance.


The third and more malicious type is disinformation. This is primarily used as a tool by governments, intelligence agencies and businesses to distract, disrupt, influence their targeted audience. In recent years disinformation has become more sophisticated and widespread due to increased communication options provided by the internet. Determining what is disinformation is extremely difficult; it is meant to be. That is why it is difficult to effectively manage this problem. Awareness of the issue along with the skills of critical thinking and analysis will limit exposure to this problem.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking can be defined as “disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence”. Simply put it means developing a healthy scepticism and not simply accepting information at face value without drilling down for supporting evidence.

 Useful questions to ask yourself

  • What or who is the original source of this information?
  • What are the circumstances, character and basis to believe that this source has access to quality information?
  • Does this source have any visible bias or agenda other than to provide factual information?
  • Does this source have relevant experience and are their opinions likely to be informed, balanced and based on evidence?
  • Can I confirm this information through a secondary and unrelated source?


When you encounter information that cites other sources, it is almost always wiser to locate the primary source to check the context against how it has been reported.  Where the information is important to decision making, you should analyse the reputation, experience and possible bias of the source. You can use other reputable sources to examine and confirm the substance of the original statements or claims

It is impractical for individuals to follow this process for every piece of information they encounter but it is a useful exercise to carry out when the information presented might impact important life or business decisions.


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