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First-Year Skills: Online Research

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How Can I Know Where Online Info is From?

You can almost always find the author, sponsor, or publisher of a website in the "About Us" section, sometimes called "Who We Are" or maybe under "Contact Us". Sometimes its takes some digging to uncover the individuals behind sites. If you can't find this info- that's probably a red flag. This is usually found toward the bottom of the page, as if the publication date. You will need this info for your citations as well so its a good idea to get in the habit of finding this before you take what the website is saying as reliable information. If you're not sure of a website's credible- ask us!


The majority of people when using the internet to look up information will most likely only look at the first three results, and without giving it a second thought will accept what they are reading. The problem with this is that almost anyone can write and publish a website. As a result, it is essential that when conducting online research that you take some time to investigate and evaluate the web sources you are using. There are 4 different criteria to use when evaluating websites:

  • Authority: Always look for any information that indicates who (author(s), publishers or organizations) is responsible for the content created on the website. In most cases, a reliable website will provide the names and credentials of the author(s). Furthermore, the author should also have the right credentials and background for the information he/she is writing about. For instance, someone writing about elementary education should have a degree in elementary education (a master's degree or higher is ideal). If no author is given try to find more information about the website and its creator(s) by looking for an "about" or "about us" page.
  • Accuracy: When you review a website there should not be any obvious spelling or grammar errors. References should also be provided. The biggest indicator, however, of a website providing accurate information is when it has some type of review or editorial process. You can find this information several different ways. In most, instances it can be found on the "about us" page, from an "editorial process/policy" section or by reviewing any "disclaimers". Click here to see an example of a website that passes the accuracy criteria and here for a website that does not.
  • Objectivity:  Avoid opinion and/or propaganda pieces, i.e, blogs. Also, pay attention to whether or not the page is filled with tons of advertisements or sponsored links. A lot of advertisements is an indication that the content may be influenced by the advertisements or sponsors. A reliable website will have little to no advertisements.
  • Audience: Attempt to learn more about the purpose/mission of the website by tuning to the "about us page" or other similar sections on the website. From the information gathered from the "about us" page, based on the writing style/tone, and other clues try to determine who the targeted audience is. Is it for a scholarly audience, the general public or novices? Next think about the purpose as this ties in with who the audience is. Is the purpose to: inform or teach, explain or enlighten, persuade or sell a product? For your academic work you want to avoid websites where the targeted audiences are the general public or novices and where the information presented is very subjective. Try to use more academic or trade (for a particular profession or field) online sources rather than popular materials. 
  • Currency: Check for dates of when the online article or web page was written and/or of when the website was last updated. Depending on your topic timeliness of the information may be important. Especially when dealing with the sciences or the medical field where old information can easily become obsolete. Any links given should also be checked to make sure that they work and go to relevant/ useful places.

Summing it All Up!

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