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Searching Information: Evaluating websites

Reliability of information

A large amount of scientific information is available on the internet. But how can you be sure which source to trust and use?

Student saying to the teacher: "Waddya mean all my facts are wrong!!? I copied everything straight off the internet!!!" Image by Fitz & Pirillo

Image: Fitz & Pirillo (2006) The Whole Internet Truth

Evaluating websites, internet sources and online-based texts

Examples of reliable internet sources include authority and university publications. Although digital publications on universities’ webpages are considered reliable scientifically, there is a continuous scientific discussion on research methods and results, and there may be criticism aimed at a single research.

When using other scholarly online sources than authority and university publications, be critical. The sources can be used, if certain evaluation criteria are fulfilled.

How to identify a reliable source?

  • Is the material published on a trustworthy website? Is the site owned by, for example, a research institute, a scientific community, an EU project or some other official organization?
  • Is the author a researcher or specialist within the field? What is his/her academic background? You can do a search on the person to ensure that he/she is really an expert.
  • Does the material have a scientific purpose? Is the source or research meant to be read by other researchers, i.e. peers? Is it a part of a scholarly discussion? This indicates that the target group is correct.
  • Is the text written objectively? Does it include strong opinions? Are things being exaggerated? Scientific research is always objective and unbiased, and all facts presented are justifiable and based on research.
  • Does the text include specialist terminology without spelling mistakes? Can you follow the logical thread of the research through theory, methodology, conclusions and references presented in the text?
  • Are the sources used in the material reliable? Are they presented correctly? Is the list of references complete and accurate?
  • Also remember to check when the material was published. Older publications may contain outdated information. Whether the material is up-to-date or not depends greatly on the topic. Are there more recent sources that support the facts presented in the material?

If these criteria are fulfilled, the source can be used.

Also remember:

Wikipedia is not a scientific source!
Use Google Scholar instead of Google!
Use Boolean operators, phrase search and truncation also in Google to boost your search!
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