What to Look ForSince anyone can publish anything on the Web, information can be inaccurate, biased, or outdated. When using information on the Web it is especially important to evaluate whether the information is credible. Looking at a website, what can you tell about the credibility based on:
- the URL
- the author and their credentials?
- the ads or sponsored links?
- the links to other websites or resources
- the date the website was updated
Being able to properly decipher URLs is an important skill in doing research online. Let’s take a look at what makes up an address:
(Click on each part of the address for more information…)
Common Types of Websites
Social Networking WebsitesSocial networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest connect users to other users and are a great way for information and ideas to spread and be shared. They are also infamous for spreading false information or information that is taken out of context.
News & News Aggregate WebsitesWebsites like The Huffington Post, Metafilter, Buzzfeed or The Daily Beast are often used to post news stories from many different news organizations and to foster conversations with users who subscribe or log into those websites. Some also generate original news content. Learn more about identifying Fake News so you can identify fact from fiction.
Topic-starter (encyclopedia-like) WebsitesInformation from sources like ThoughtCo.com or Wikipedia is very appealing because it is broken down and organized in topics that are easy to read and navigate. These aren’t bad websites to use as you are first understanding a topic, but they are only intended to get you to the next level of research, not to be used as information sources. These are often called reference sources because they refer you to information that will direct your research further. You can learn more about Working with Wikipedia and using it as part of the research process.
Student Networking & Academic Indexing WebsitesServices like Google Scholar, Academia.edu, CiteUlike, and Researchgate are important to know about because they come up at the top of Web search results. These tools may not bring you to full-text sources or sources that are academically appropriate to cite in your work. Some of these tools are places where students post their work and conversations about topics they are researching. They can be wonderful tools to explore and learn about subjects, but not typically as sources for information themselves. All of these types of websites can be a good way to encounter new information you are interested in, but this means that you might not encounter information in its original context. Remember to take the extra step and track the information back to where it was originally published. You’ll be able to judge the credibility of the information best if you see it in its original context. You can learn more about how to use Google Scholar for college-level work.
A good shortcut to finding information that you can trust online is to start with directories of sites pre-selected by people and institutions you trust. The Hartness Library’s Subject Guides are one good starting point for locating credible websites in your subject area.