Using the Internet for research can be tricky. Websites aren’t always the best source of information for some topics. While there are a lot of good websites out there, many have problems. Some common problems with web sites include:
- Bias: Some websites are put up by people who only want you to hear one side of the story. They may leave out information or distort facts to make you see things their way.
- Timeliness: Some web sites may start out with good information, but never get updated, so their information becomes out-of-date.
- Accuracy: Some websites contain information that is just plain wrong. Anyone can put up a web site, and the majority are not checked by anyone.
How do I know if a website is reliable?
You can evaluate the websites you find using these important criteria (courtesy of National Endowment for the Humanities):
Who wrote this and what are the author's credentials? Most websites identify the author - whether an individual or an institution - at the foot of the home page.
Where does the document reside? A website's URL is the most reliable indicator of its publishing body. Educational institutions have "edu" in their URLs. Non-profit organizations, such as museums and public interest groups, have "org." Federal and state government agencies usually have "gov" or "fed." Commercial entities, such as corporations and web service providers, can be recognized by the familiar "com" or occasionally, "net."
What is the author's goal? This is an especially important question to ask when researching a controversial topic. Some web authors clearly state their position on a matter of debate, while others work so far inside an issue that they assume their readers are already well-versed on the points in dispute.
What does the author know? Depth and breadth of knowledge can often be evaluated by the quantity and quality of resources offered on a site, as distinct from the number of links to resources on other sites.Is the site's author well regarded, cited and written by experts in the field?
Where did this information come from? As in conventional scholarship, web publications should identify the sources of their information.
Is the information still current? Most websites have a copyright date at the foot of every page and some also post the date of the site's most recent update.
How do I cite my sources?
Check with your instructor to see which style guide you should use. There are several popular style guides, including:
American Psychological Association (APA)
The Chicago Manual of Style
Modern Language Association (MLA)