In last week’s post, we talked about how to begin the research process of your essay. Hopefully, you’ve spent some time in the planning stages and have settled on an essay topic and are ready to begin evaluating the sources you have found. You might have collected research from the library in the form of books or journals, from library databases, such as EBSCO or Opposing Viewpoints, and online sources. You know that most books, journals and library databases are a good place to find credible sources. But how do you evaluate the credibility of web sources?
The internet can be a wonderful and useful tool to learn more about a topic and a good place to collect research. The web houses a vast amount of information, and web-based research can be as reliable as any print source. And let’s face it – it’s easy. At the touch of a few keys, you have a world of information readily available. However, even though you might find a limitless supply of quality sources online, you can just as easily find sources that are biased, outdated, and outright incorrect. So how does one evaluate web sources?
Who is the Author?
Many websites list no author, and often are produced by some nameless, faceless voice. One might assume if an author puts his/her name on a webpage or article on a website that it must be credible. But don’t be so sure. Simply having an author name attached to a website or page doesn’t guarantee that person is a credible source. Who is this person? What are his or her qualifications? Many times, the author may be an advocate for one side of an argument, or an employee of a company or business that falls squarely on one side of an issue. Even a “Dr.” or “PhD” behind a name doesn’t necessarily make them a credible source. If an author’s qualifications are not listed, do some digging. Google their name. Work to uncover what their background is. This will save you some frustration and embarrassment in the end.
Who is the Sponsoring Organization?
When you find a website you’d like to use, is the sponsoring organization clearly stated? Most credible websites clearly state the sponsor of the website. One good rule of thumb is the domain provider, which indicates the type of sponsoring organization. College and university websites are all .edu; nonprofits use .org (though not solely nonprofits); government entities use .gov. Most instructors consider these domains more reliable sources of information than .com or .net domains.
Even though you may find good information on .com or .net, these domain types are less predictable and more often biased. Even though .org are used for nonprofits, that doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t find biased information on these websites.
What is the Purpose and Audience?
When you study the website, is it clear what the purpose or function is of the information? Many websites are there to educate the audience, but beware. If they are making some type of argument, leaning to one side of a position, then it may be biased.
Can you discern who the intended audience is? If you find you agree with everything the information conveys, that doesn’t necessarily make it a good resource. You want unbiased sources who have no stake in your argument. Otherwise, you’ll have a lopsided argument that lacks credibility.
How Current is the Information?
If the website publishes articles, do they list a publication date? If not, scroll down the webpage to the bottom of the screen. Here you should find the “Last Update,” or publication date of the webpage. Many instructors require current research, especially on scientific-related topics. Even research one year old might be outdated in some topics.
If the website offers linked pages, click on those to see the dates listed on the pages. It’s not uncommon to find websites with pages of dead links, which is often a sign the webpage is outdated.
Spending time collecting research is only half the battle; once you find research that fits your topic, it’s imperative you take the time to evaluate all sources before you include them in your argument. You’ll be glad you did.
Students: Have you ever found research that you later learned was not as credible as you originally thought?
Check out the websites below. Are they credible?
More help with evaluating online sources can be found at : http://people.wcsu.edu/reitzj/res/evalweb.html