If you have a computer, an Internet connection and time, you can findaccurate and reliable information on any subject, right?
Maybe. When it comes to "accurate" and "reliable," not all sources arecreated equal. The Internet is like a virtual library, with one majordifference. By the time a physical book is on the shelf, many professionalshave verified its content. On the Web, anyone can publish. As aresearcher, it's your task to make sure the information you use is reliable.
Before you start looking for information, carefully select your source. TheInternet is not always the best place to begin. Ask yourself the followingquestions:
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.
Ifyou are searching for information on a current event, a reliable newspaperlike the New York Times might fit the bill. If you aresearching for population statistics, census reportsmay be your best bet. Both happen to be on the Internet, but you may alsoneed sources that aren't. (Hint: see your librarian.)
Kathy Schrock, technology coordinator for Dennis-Yarmouth RegionalSchools in Massachusetts, recommends creating a research organizer byoutlining the main idea, purpose, synonyms and search strategies in anotebook. "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? Ifno 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 ishttp://www.site.com/section/section/page.htm, try deleting page.htm, theneach section until you reach the right area.
What are the author's qualifications? Is he/she connected to a well-knowninstitution (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, agovernment agency, a not-for-profit organization or someone's personal page?An organization might post information without identifying the author. Ifso, 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 isunfair 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 severalsources report the same information, the odds of accuracy are better.
"Irecommend using common sense to question any answer on the Web," said HopeTillman, 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, itprobably is. "When in doubt, doubt," Henderson said.
The following guides offer useful tips for evaluating Web resources: