Decide if a Resource is Reliable Before Using it in an Essay
Everything on the internet’s legit, right? Well...maybe not. So how can students, as both researchers and web surfers, tell the difference between what is a legitimate source on the net and what’s not?
While there may be nothing that’s foolproof, there are some fairly easy things a student can do to evaluate his sources. If a student cites legitimate sources in his papers, his writing will be considered legitimate as well.
What's in a Name? What to Learn From a Web Address
One of the easiest things to start with it to look at the name of the website. Dot-coms (.com) are sometimes iffy. Why? Because they are commercial addresses. Sometimes, commercial websites ultimately want to sell something. If, however, a student uses a website with the suffixes .gov (government), .edu (education), and .org (organization), she is more likely to be using a legitimate source.
The bottom line, though, is that a student should consider what the motivation is for the website. Is the website about parenting, and it's selling books about being a parent? Or does it have articles about parenting but is not selling anything directly? A lot of good information can be found on dot-com sites, but a student should scrutinize the site just to be sure it's legit. In other words ask:
- What is the purpose of the website?
- Is it there to inform and educate, or is it there to ultimately sell a product?
- Which purpose would be viewed as more valid for a research paper?
How Current is the Website? Make Sure its Freshness Hasn't Expired
On the internet, information is published at an astronomical rate. Information can sometimes go out of date quickly, so it's best if a student makes sure the information is current.
Students should also determine how complete and accurate the information on the site is. Can the information on the site be verified with other online sources? Does the site itself refer to other sources of information? Are the links in the website helpful (or are any of the links broken)? All of these things will help a student determine if the information is current and continues to be relevant.
Don't Resist Authority: Why Expertise is Important
Students should ask themselves what makes the author or website owner an expert on his subject. They should ask who the author or publisher of the website is. They should also try to find out what the individual’s or group’s authority or expertise is in regard to the information contained on the website.
For example, if a lawyer was describing best custom essay writing in medical condition, would this information seem reliable? What if a doctor was giving readers legal advice? What if a makeup artist was giving examples of trigonometry or physics problems? Should a student believe these people to be experts at first glance?
It's best to be skeptical. Students should seek an "About Us" page or some other part of the website that explains why the person or group should be considered an authority.
Students should also see if contact information is available somewhere on the site. If a student is unable to contact the author of the site or if there are broken links on the pages, does he ultimately think the information on the site is reliable? If so, it's best to keep looking for a different source.
Other Good Questions to Ask to Determine Credibility of a Website
- Can the student see any bias on the website? Is it obvious? Does it present the opposition’s point of view? If the information is biased, does it diminish the information presented?
- Is the site clean and uncluttered, or is it distracting, and is it hard to find the information one is looking for? Do the graphics on the site serve a function, or are they just for show?
- Does the text on the site follow grammar and spelling rules, or are there obvious errors? What should lots of errors indicate to a student?
- Is the site well-organized? Can the student “find her way” through to the information she needs, or is it buried so deeply she becomes helplessly lost? Is there a search engine embedded in the site so she can easily find what she's looking for?
- Finally, a student should ask what her gut instinct tells her. The World Wide Web is built to be intuitive, so what does her intuition tell her about the site? If she questions the site from the very beginning, she should listen to herself!
Seek and Find: Keep Looking Until the Right Source is Found
Ultimately, a student should feel confident using a website in a research paper. There is so much good, reliable information on the internet, there is no excuse for a student to settle for something that isn't credible. Students should keep looking until they find a solid source.