Finding authoritative, informed resources on the web that are good enough to cite in an academic paper can be a challenge. Here are some resources and tips.
Look for these things to determine if a site is credible:
- Author & Authority: who’s the individual or organization responsible for creating the page? What are their qualifications and credentials? Hint: If you can’t find this information fairly easily, then the website probably isn’t up to academic standards.
- Objectivity: what’s the purpose for the page? What’s the tone of the writing? Is there a bias towards a particular point of view? A site with a bias can still be credible, but it is important for you to be aware of what the site’s bias is, if any exists. Hint: Look for an “about” page.
- Citations: Do the site’s authors cite their sources so you can verify any factual information presented on the cite? Do they support their opinions with evidence? If not, it’s probably not a credible site.
- Accuracy: is the information on the page accurate? Are there spelling and grammatical errors?
- Currency: Is the page content up to date? When was the last time content was posted? Do all the links and multimedia content work?
- Commercial content: how many ads are on the page? Do links take you to sites that want you to buy stuff? Note: The presence of ads is OK – almost all sites have a least a few ads. But, be aware that there are many sites that exist just to show you advertising. These sites are extremely cluttered with ads and often copy and paste content directly from other sites and offer very little in the way of useful information.
The Internet Public Library
Instead of searching Google right away, try searching the Internet Public Library (IPL). Sites in the IPL are selected by librarians and have already been evaluated by an expert. This doesn’t mean that you don’t need to evaluate the site (it may have become out of date since it was added to the IPL, for example), but it gives you a better starting point and less junk to sort through than with a Google search.
- Use the advanced search feature to limit your search to sites only from .edu, .org, or .gov domains.
- Warning: Do NOT rely on domain name alone to determine if a site is good or not! .Edu sites sometimes contain student projects. Anyone can register for a .org domain name, for any reason. The .gov domain is restricted to US government use and is always credible, but your topic may or may not be covered by government resources. And, with .gov sites, it’s important to make sure that the site is current.
To access Google’s Advanced Search feature, you need to run a normal Google search first. When you do the normal search, you will see a little icon that looks like a gear (a toothed wheel) in the upper right. Click on this, then choose “Advanced Search” from the options that appear (click on image for a larger picture):
Your search terms will transfer into the advanced search form. You just need to add the domain you want to search (.edu or .gov, for example) in the box labeled “site or domain. (Click on image for a larger picture):