Getting reliable information online is tough. The Internet is crammed with so many websites-often churned out by people without qualifications or corporations without impartiality-that sluicing out the gold from the crud can frustrate even the most patient surfer. Still, researchers with their wits about them can learn to recognize the flimsy from the substantial. The most important thing to consider is your source. Find out what you can about who created the content on a website. To do that, there are 5 things you should check:
".com" sites often exist to make money rather than provide reliable facts. At times, they may be useful, but you should regard them with suspicion, and always make sure you verify what they say elsewhere.
"gov" , "org", "edu" and nationality sites (.ca, .uk, .au, etc.) usually have an interest in getting their facts right. These URLs tend to be (but are not always) more dependable and accurate than "com" sites.
|Contact or About info||Reliability
Contact information tells you the author may be reliable-it means he or she is taking some responsibility for the content on a website.
About info tells you about the author, whether a person, a corporation, a government, a university or an international agency like the UN. It will help you decide whether the author is really interested in reliable information.
|Last Updated message||Currency and Accuracy
Most good sites have "last updated on ________" at the bottom of their pages. This tells you the author is eager for up-to-date details. Of course, not all information needs constant updating: statistics do; historical facts, mostly, do not.
|The text itself||ObjectivitySome texts provide superficial information to sell products. Others, representing a particular group, present a biased point of view. Beware of opinion or stuff that seems too popular.
Substance Does the author skimp on details or cover the subject thoroughly? Are there references to published books and articles? Does the author provide any credentials?
Whenever you see an ad on a website, beware-it sometimes means the author is more interested in your wallet than in the subject matter.
Other Research Help
- Evaluating Websites
- Bibliographic Citation Guides