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While the world of the web has its place in the world of academia, one must use caution before accepting freely posted (unpublished) information as reliable or appropriate to scholarship. Determining reliability requires practice and critical thinking. Here below are some quick questions that you should ask yourself before accepting or rejecting a website for its scholarly value. Sometimes answering these questions is a straightforward process. Other times, you may need to do some 'digging'. If in doubt about the merits of a website for research purposes, please discuss it with your instructor or a librarian.
- Can the authoring body of the page be determined?
- Is there contact information such as address, phone number or e-mail address?
- Is the domain .com? Or is it .gov, .edu, maybe .org?
- Does the author have expertise, such as an advanced degree or an affiliation with a reputable organization?
- Do other reputable organizations link to the site? Perform a 'link' search in Google.
(e.g., go to http://www.google.com and type in "link:http://www.bedfordstmartins.com/online/citex.html")
- Is there supporting documentation such as a bibliography or footnotes to indicate the sources of the information?
- Are there misspellings or grammatical errors?
- Can anyone post to the website? (e.g. Wikipedia)
- Does the authoring body have a bias or agenda such as with an advocacy or lobby group? If so, is this bias stated or hidden?
- Is inflammatory, emotional or political language being used?
- If the subject matter is controversial, are all views represented?
- How current is the information? Are there references to recent developments?
- Are dates included (e.g. "First Posted" date, "Last Updated" date)?
- How many dead links are on the page?
- Does the content supply more images or advertising than text?
- How detailed is the information supplied? If an overview, perhaps a library reference or e-reference book would be more helpful.
- If a journal article, is it peer-reviewed*?
- Has the site been rated for its content by a reputable rating group?
- Can the content be viewed without requiring special technology or fees?
* Peer-review: This is the process requiring that each article submitted for publication is judged by an independent panel of experts (scholarly or scientific peers). Articles not approved by a majority of these peers are not accepted for publication by the journal.
Should I use or cite Wikipedia? Probably not. From Williams College Libraries
Geisel Library - E-Reference Resources For background information, better content is often supplied here.
Citing Sources Website citation examples are included