In today's information age, it has never been faster or easier to do research. It has also never been more important to be able to evaluate sources for credibility. Students face what Kelly Walsh, chief information officer at The College of Westchester, calls "an overwhelming array of content" when searching online for sources. Knowing how to evaluate online sources is crucial to gathering the most current, relevant information for your research and establishing credibility in your writing.
One problem of authorship on the Internet is that anyone with the skills and equipment can publish a website. Although a resource may have good information, it may be published by someone without qualifications, experience and education. Be careful of sources where the author's expertise can easily be called into question, or sites that do not contain a works cited page, bibliography or other list of sources. Using information from sites where the authors lack authority in their fields or do not reference their research can in turn damage the credibility of your essay.
The inadvertent use of biased information can also be hazardous to writing a credible essay. Some websites have a specific agenda and may not give a balanced treatment of the issue to more easily persuade readers. Often, they resort to skewing information or taking it out of context for the purposes of making their case look stronger. In particular, avoid using the websites of most special interest groups, polarizing political sites and any sources written by media pundits.
Research today is conducted, verified and published at rapid speeds. Because of this, using data from older studies instead of seeking out current research can provide an unrealistic portrayal of your topic. Currency can also mean the frequency with which the site has been updated. A strong piece of evidence for this is "linkrot," or links to websites that are dead or no longer available. This usually means the website has not been well maintained and may thus have outdated information.
Types of Sites
Knowing the kinds of sources most likely to present solid information can aid the credibility of your writing. Most university libraries offer scholarly databases, allowing you to access to academic journals and research publications for free with tuition. Because they are published and fact-checked by experts in their fields, scholarly sources present a reasonable, unbiased view of their subjects. Domain suffixes can also provide clues to credibility; while there are notable exceptions, educational research (.edu), government studies (.gov) and not-for-profit organizations (.org) tend to provide useful, fair information.
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