How to Find Good Information on the Web

There's lots of good "stuff" on the web on virtually any topic you can name, but there's even more junk! Here are points to remember as you surf the web looking for good information for research papers, speeches, or other projects.

There's lots of good "stuff" on the web on virtually any topic you can name, but there's even more junk! Here are points to remember as you surf the web looking for good information for research papers, speeches, or other projects.
 

 

  • Just about anyone can put just about anything on the Web. Just because it is in a public place (like the Web) doesn't mean it is reliable, accurate, or truthful. You want to use resources where the author is identified and where his/her credentials are given. You want to find a "publisher" on the Web that has qualifications like those for printed reference materials (e.g., an academic institution, an established publisher, a newspaper source, etc.). You probably don't want to use a paper or assignment you find by another student as an authoritative source.
     
  • Not everything on the Web is in its ORIGINAL form. Make sure that the page has been developed or updated recently. Make sure that the information has not been plagiarized or quoted out of context. Be careful of using sources that have been altered (intentionally or unintentionally). Ask yourself if you need the original source or if a secondary one will meet your needs.
     
  • Like printed resources, Web resources should be reviewed.  You want to find sources that have been reviewed or evaluated by experts or authorities. You can rely on sources that have been reviewed by publication or an editor, by peers (especially academic peers), or by libraries and librarians. Some of the best sites can be found by searching IPL2:  Information You Can Trust. You can search these by subject and find high quality online resources. Annotated lists or subjects guides give you notes or descriptions of sources; use these to identify possibilities. Many college and university libraries develop their own lists of recommended subject sites for their students. Ask your librarian for help!
  • Finally, remember to write down all the information you will need to write a footnote or end note for documentation. Ask your instructor to review the correct format with you.

  
  
 TOP TEN CRITERIA FOR EVALUATING WEB RESOURCES

From "Worries With the Web:  A Look at Student Use of Web Resources," College & Research Libraries, January 2001, by Deborah J. Grimes and Carl H. Boening. c.2001.
 

Criterion Description
Authorship Authors should be identified, with appropriate credentials evident.
Currency Dates should be provided for each source, which are current or timely enough to be appropriate to the research topic.  Web resources, both individual pages and databases, should be updated regularly.
Recommendations It should be evident that Web resources have been through some review process or have received recommendations by outside sources.  Web resources include online databases, which moderate information like print counterparts, as well as personal pages.
Perspective Biases and affiliations should be evident on web resources, including commercial affiliations.
Audience Intended audiences (lay persons, fans, professionals, specialists, educators, students, etc.) should be evident.
Style and tone Style and tone should be appropriate to the topic.  Web resources should meet the same criteria for grammar, spelling, documentation, that print resources meet.  Sites should be user-friendly and in good taste to be appropriate for research papers.
Quality of content Content should be timely, documented, verifiable, and accurate.  Limitations should be pointed out.  Information should be detailed enough to be appropriate and relevant to the research paper topic.
Organization of information Resources should be well-organized, easy to follow and use, with reliable links.
Publisher, source, host Publishers, sources, and hosts provide some of the authority associated with any Web resource.  They should be evident to the user and appropriate to the topic.
Stability of information Web sites and the information on them should be relatively stable over time, as should basic information.  Changes in information (or updates) should be indicated.

 

Many of the same criteria are applied to printed resources that you may find in libraries. However, libraries have already taken care of "quality control" through their own selection processes. The same is not true of all Web resources.

Updated 3/5/12.