May 30 2012

Web research: Evaluating online sources

by Barbie in Research

This week, we’ve been discussing ways to effectively conduct research on the web. We’ve talked about how to optimize your search results and why you should avoid sites such as Wikipedia. Today, in the final post in our web research series, we’re offering some tips on evaluating online sources to determine if they are credible. When you discover a potential source on the web, here are some things to consider:

  • What type of website is it? A .edu, .gov, or even .org site often comes from a reputable source, such as a university, governmental organization, or professional organization. Such websites can be trusted as reliable and credible authorities on a range of topics.
  • Is an author listed? If so, run a quick search on the author (or look for an About page) to find out about the author’s background and expertise. Does it relate to the website’s content? If you can’t find an author or can’t deem the author credible, don’t use the website.
  • Is there a date that the content was published? Not every source you use has to be recent, but websites that aren’t monitored might be offering outdated or even inaccurate information.
  • Is the website selling a product? Often, retail websites attract visitors by offering articles that promote their products. These sources are biased and often developed without much research just to increase site hits.
  • Does the site offer original content? Many “content mills” on the web, which Google is quickly eliminating from search results, repurpose content from other sources. If the information includes a list of references, check them out — you might be able to find a more legitimate original source elsewhere on the web.

Use your best judgment when it comes to selecting web sources. If the website doesn’t seem legitimate, it probably isn’t. The Internet makes a wealth of information on a range of topics more accessible. By choosing reputable, credible web sources, you can bolster the legitimacy of your paper. Choose wisely.