The Internet is a treasure trove of information. You can find out information on just about any topic you can imagine by a simple online search. However, this amazing resource has one fundamental flaw, and that is the fact that anyone with a computer and Internet connection can put up information on the World Wide Web. If you are using the Internet for true research, you must know how to evaluate the information you find there.
One of the first things to look at when evaluating online information is the source. Who wrote the information you are reading? What is the website the information is found on? This link provides information on what types of online resources are the most authoritative based on the domain. Avoid quoting someone's personal website in your researched work. Also, if the author is anonymous, the information may not be reliable. Reliable authors are willing to put their name behind the information they provide. Look for an author bio that provides credentials about the author.
Similarly, look at the company that is publishing the information. Is it a government agency, historical society, medical group, or some other trustworthy source? If not, you need to validate the information by searching elsewhere.
Some websites even allow users to generate their own content, which means the content may not be as accurate as you need. This tutorial shows the main differences between print sources and online sources, so be sure to keep these in mind as you research.
You also need to look at the point of view of the author. As with any written work, bias can show through in online information. This article provides useful information in evaluating online information for bias and point of view.
The Internet is always changing. When you are evaluating a source, be sure to look at when it was published. Information may have changed since the publication date. If you cannot find the date the website was created, evaluate the information to see whether or not it is current. Keep in mind that some things, like classic literature or historical facts, do not change with time, so older sources may be accurate. Always double check information you find online for accuracy. These links provide more information about evaluating online information:
Internet Research Sources
Evaluating Websites: Criteria and Tools
Questions to Ask When Evaluating Online Information
Information, Literacy, and You
Common Types of Web Information
Evaluating Information Found on the Internet
If you do decide to use information you have found online, be sure you follow all copyright laws. Remember, online information is the intellectual property of the author. The fact that it is published online does not mean you can use it however you wish. Always cite the source of your information. These links will show you proper citation for online resources:
Citing Online Sources in MLA, APA, and CBE
How to Cite Online Sources
Online Citation Formats