If you have a computer, an Internet connection and time, you can find
accurate and reliable information on any subject, right?
Maybe. When it comes to "accurate" and "reliable," not all sources are
created equal. The Internet is like a virtual library, with one major
difference. By the time a physical book is on the shelf, many professionals
have verified its content. On the Web, anyone can publish. As a
researcher, it's your task to make sure the information you use is reliable.
Before you start looking for information, carefully select your source. The
Internet is not always the best place to begin. Ask yourself the following
What kind of information am I looking for?
Which sources would be the most helpful in finding that information?
The most common mistake students make is believing everything's on the Web,
said John Henderson, a reference librarian at Ithaca College Libraries.
you are searching for information on a current event, a reliable newspaper
like the New York Times might fit the bill. If you are
searching for population statistics, census reports
may be your best bet. Both happen to be on the Internet, but you may also
need sources that aren't. (Hint: see your librarian.)
Kathy Schrock, technology coordinator for Dennis-Yarmouth Regional
Schools in Massachusetts, recommends creating a research organizer by
outlining the main idea, purpose, synonyms and search strategies in a
notebook. "This will save lots of time in the long run," Shrock said.
Questions to Ask
When exploring online sources, think about the following issues:
1. The Author
Is the author's name listed, along with his/her e-mail or street address? If
no one takes credit for the work, its accuracy may be questionable.
Tip: You might find author information on another page of a site.
To find your way back to the main page of a section or site,
try "backwards deleting." If the address is
http://www.site.com/section/section/page.htm, try deleting page.htm, then
each section until you reach the right area.
What are the author's qualifications? Is he/she connected to a well-known
institution (like a university)? Is the author an authority on your topic?
If you can't find information on the site, try searching a book store,
library or search engine for the author's name.
Who is responsible for the site hosting your resource? Is it a university, a
government agency, a not-for-profit organization or someone's personal page?
An organization might post information without identifying the author. If
so, can you rely on the publisher as reliable and accurate?
Is the information current? What is the "last revised" date on the page?
Does the site have a lot of dead links?
Does the information seem slanted in any way, indicating a bias that is
unfair or unsupported?
Does the site have spelling and grammar errors? (Signs of carelessness).
Has the site been given an award or high rating by a reputable group?
Cover Your Bases
Not sure whether a source is reliable? Get a second opinion. If several
sources report the same information, the odds of accuracy are better.
recommend using common sense to question any answer on the Web," said Hope
Tillman, Director of Libraries at Babson College. "And if at all possible,
to find more than one result that corroborates the answer."
At the end of the day, you're the judge. If something seems fishy, it
probably is. "When in doubt, doubt," Henderson said.
The following guides offer useful tips for evaluating Web resources: