How to Evaluate Internet Sources

So you may have noticed that some of your professors aren’t too excited about students using internet sources for their papers.

Here’s why: academia has a long tradition of having work thoroughly evaluated by experts before it’s published. This is usually referred to as “peer-reviewed.”

But the internet sidesteps all that and what you find when you google “inflationary trends” (or whatever) may be a site that was posted by my Great Aunt Allie.

So, how do you pick out the really useful sites that are more acceptable in an academic context?

  1. evaluate the authority and credibility of the site’s author
    • who put the page together?
    • what are their background/credentials/qualifications?
    • is the author affiliated with a reputable institution or organization?
    • is there a way to contact the author(s)?
    • have you heard of the author(s) in class, or cited in a text?
    • has the author written elsewhere on the same topic?
    • can the information on the site be verified by another source?
    • would the authors of the site have a vested interest in one viewpoint over another? Why? (e.g. is there a “sponsor” of the site?)

  2. evaluate the currency of the site
    • what’s the latest date you can find on the site?
    • are all the links up-to-date and working?
    • does the site really provide information on all aspects that it claims to cover?

  3. evaluate the content accuracy and reliability of the site
    • is information presented as fact or opinion or conjecture?
    • is more than one viewpoint presented?
    • is the source of the information clearly stated?
    • is the source of the information original research or secondary material based on research elsewhere?
    • does the information show substance and depth?
    • does the site have spelling or grammar errors, or other signs of carelessness?
    • what is the relative value of the site in comparison with the range of other information resources available on this topic? (ask a librarian)
    • are additional electronic and print resources provided to complement the material on the site?
    • when arguments are given, are they based on strong evidence and good logic?

This information was compiled from sources at UCLA and the University of Toronto.

For info on using Google well, click here.