Writing Research: It Pays To Scrutinize

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by Joe Wallace

I was doing some research for a finance article I’m writing on consumer fraud when I ran across Fraud.org, a site that looks full of promise and great advice. Fraud.org is part of the official-sounding National Consumers League, and I was all set to write up a glowing review of the site.

But a few things caught my editorial eye that bugged me.

To preface, let me say that I have no indicators whatsoever that Fraud.org or the National Consumers League could be anything but what they claim to be–a pro-consumer group. But there are things that ring my warning bells about sites like these, and I’ve learned to listen to those warnings until I get further clarification.

For starters, I got a bad first impression from this site because of the seriously outdated info on the front page–an ad for National Consumer Protection Week, which was in early March. Not a good way to begin a relationship with a new reader and potential financial supporter.

Fraud.org has a prominent place on the main page asking for donations. Not a bad thing to do when you’re a non-profit in need of public assistance to stay afloat.

But the website Fraud.org has no contact information on it that I could find aside from the donation form and a consumer complaint form. That’s a warning to me. I would never consider donating to a group that didn’t have a phone number I could call to speak to a real, live human.

You CAN find contact information on the parent site of Fraud.org, the National Consumers League. But that leads me to the thing that set off my other warning bells–a serious inconsistency in design across the sites. This doesn’t inspire trust. It tends to make cautious people wonder what you might be hiding or wonder why you haven’t bothered to make your site as professionally presented as possible.

It took me a bit of time–too much from my point of view– to learn that NCL is indeed a non-profit, has a rich and diverse history and is legitimately involved (from all appearances) in the community it claims to protect. In the end, I felt I could safely recommend this organization in spite of my earlier misgivings.

But let this be a lesson to both groups like NCL and writers alike. If you’re in too much of a hurry to post or go to press, you risk plenty on the credibily front. If I had just blindly recommended this website without looking more closely, I might have passed on a scam to my readers. If I had written this site off AS a scam based on my first impressions, I would have communicated what I now to believe to be bad information.

The truth of the matter seems to be that NCL has some design and presentation problems to correct, but that the agency is sound. By being persistent and looking hard enough, I feel I avoided two pitfalls for the price of one. That’s the payoff for spending the extra time vetting your sources. You maintain your credibility and you protect your readers.