Though information on almost any topic can be quickly had on the internet, you must be very careful in your use of what you find. Not everything you find is trustworthy. Since anyone can place any information they want on the internet, and since there is usually no one editing or checking the information placed there, as there is for more traditional information sources such as books and journal articles, you must submit everything you find to a rigorous evaluation. In this research guide we will show you how to do that.
In approaching internet information, look for the qualities listed below. If any of them are missing, a red flag should go up and you should reconsider using the source.
Goal: An authoritative source that supplies trustworthy information
- Is the source trustworthy? Does the web address end with any of the following: .gov, .mil, .edu? These tend to be trustworthy.
- Are author credentials given? Is the author a known or respected authority? If you are unsure, search the Internet, or a periodical index, or a university online catalog, to see if the person has published anything on the subject.
- Is there evidence of quality control? Are there misspelled words and bad grammar?
- Does the source have organizational support? What is the organization? Is it well-known and well-respected? Even if the document is anonymous, if it is from a well-known organization, it is probably acceptable to use. The organization should have verified the information in the document is credible.
Goal: A source that is correct, current, and that gives the whole truth
- Is the source up-to-date? In certain fields (medicine, business, science, etc.), old information may not be accurate anymore.
- Is it factual, detailed, exact, comprehensive?
- Does the purpose of the document reflect the intentions of completeness and accuracy?
- Is it at a level appropriate for your use? Or is it written for a younger, less sophisticated audience?
Goal: A source that engages the subject thoughtfully, reasonably
- Is the document balanced, objective, reasoned?
- Is there a conflict of interest? Does the information seem to give support to any advertisers?
- Is there a slanted tone? Sites with strong opinions, backed up with facts are alright, provided they are fair to their opponents.
- Does the author provide information on how to contact him/her so you can discuss their information?
- Are the claims made by the author supported with evidence? Or are they unsubstantiated?
- Are the sources from which the author took his/her information documented Is there a bibliography? This is especially important with statistical information.
- Is the information given corroborated by other sources? Does it correspond with what you might already know about the subject, or does it contradict what you know to be true?
Goal: A source that provides convincing evidence for its claims and which is confirmed by other sources
The above is adapted from Evaluating Internet Research Sources by Robert Harris http://www.virtualsalt.com/evalu8it.htm