In most courses, whether online or face-to-face, you will be required to write at least one research paper. For this, you will need to locate relevant evidence that is both credible and high quality. As an online student, you will likely be searching for sources on the internet, which is not regulated for quality or accuracy the way other mediums are. Therefore, you will need to know how to determine if information on a webpage is credible or not.
- Check the domain – The most common domain, .com, can be used by any person or business to say anything whether true or not. This domain will require more evaluation than the others. The domain .edu belongs to educational institutions. You may find articles written by professors on these sites, but be careful to make sure it is peer-reviewed content. The domain .gov is a government website. If you need reliable information about government policy, tax codes, or a political office, these sites are a great place to start. Any organization, even for-profits, can register for a .org address. They are similar to .com sites, and most information found on them will have a bias toward their mission and goals. No matter where you find your information, always read it with a critical eye and make sure the type of content matches the type of domain.
- Check the date – Outdated sources may or may not be accurate. If a study was conducted 10 years ago, chances are there have been more recent studies that have confirmed or disproved the older study.
- Check the author – Determine who authored or is responsible for the content and search for information about their education and experience. If you are looking for information about eye infections in cats, a veterinarian who has been practicing for years is a more reliable source than a cat mom with a blog. Just remember, anyone can claim to be anything on the internet, so just because someone says they are a veterinarian, they may not be. Look for references or ways of determining that the author holds the credentials they claim to.
- Check sources – Look at how sources are cited and what type of source is used. Scholarly content should always have citations and should not be written opinion. If the content is reproduced from another source, go to the original source to ensure it has not been altered or skewed.
- Links to the site – Other reliable websites linking to the site indicates credibility. If no one is linking to the site, then it may not be credible. To find out who is linking to the site, type the URL into the search box on Alexa, and click on Find.
- Check for spelling and grammar – Numerous spelling and grammar errors are a clue that the page is not a credible resource. Websites that provide credible information spend the time and effort to catch these errors.
For more information on evaluating web resources, Purdue University OWL (Online Writing Lab) provides a free resource and examples.
Accessing Your Library
When accuracy is important, one of the best places to do online research is the library. Most colleges and universities house an academic library which serves to both support the curriculum and support the research faculty and students. These libraries have access to research databases, many of which are not available or free through traditional search engines. Wichita State students are given access to countless journals and databases such as Google Scholar. Since many of these resources are peer-reviewed (reviewed and approved by other professionals in the article’s field), they are both credible, high quality, and a suitable basis for your assignment.
For Wichita State students, the Ablah Library can be accessed through the myWSU portal by clicking on the Libraries tab. Here you can search databases for peer-reviewed articles, access the library catalog, book a study room or sound booth, request an interlibrary loan, and contact a librarian.
For video tutorials from the State of Kansas Computer Skills Center, please click on the following titles:
Research Using the Internet