Evaluating Online Sources

Introduction

More and more research is done online, and there is nothing wrong with that. The key is to know when a source is trustworthy and credible. In an ideal world, we would cite only research that is peer-reviewed (vetted by other experts in the field). However, there are many excellent sources (like this website!) that have not been officially peer-reviewed. Most students will instinctively recognize when a source is suspect, but it’s still worthwhile to review the key indicators that distinguish good sources from bad ones.

Lousy Sources

Check out the following website and see if you can spot why this is not a quality online source:

 

This is clearly a blog post that has been written in a hurry and contains mostly plagiarized or irrelevant content. The presence of annoying pop-up windows and advertisements tells you that this is not an educational website. Quoting from this source would only hurt your own credibility.

Good Sources

There is no one key indicator that will tell you if a website is trustworthy. For instance, a blog post is usually a more subjective source, but some blogs are incredibly detailed and useful.

The best approach, then, is to apply a number of criteria at the same time:

If a website generally meets these criteria, you can mine it for ideas and quotations. It is rare, however, to find a source that’s perfect. For instance, there are some excellent websites that contain graphics and images that are not optimized for voice recognition software. You are looking at one right now …

The Best Sources

The best online sources are often not found with just a simple Google search. Refine your searches by using Google Scholar, look for institutional archives and repositories, or search a library database.

Further Resources

There are many resources for evaluating websites. Here are a few of the more useful ones:

Teaching resources

Fact checking websites

General statistics

Comparing multiple perspectives

Webpage analysis

Analyzing your own online behaviour

 

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