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Evaluating Online Resources and Effective Internet Searching

Evaluating your sources

As more and more information becomes available on the Internet, it is important that you understand how to assess the credibility and accuracy of any information you use in your study and research. Using credible sources in your assignments can help translate into better marks. 

Below are some questions that you may want to consider to help you evaluate information you discover on the Internet. These questions can help determine if the source is reliable, trustworthy and suitable for inclusion in your assignments.  

Watch the video below to learn more about evaluating online information.

Authority

The first step of your evaluation should be an assessment of the individual or organisation responsible for the information.

If an author is identified, can you establish:

  • The author's position?
  • Their professional qualifications?
  • Their affiliations?

​Essentially, you need to establish whether they are suitably qualified to be writing on the topic?

If there is not enough information on the webpage for you to answer the questions above, you may have to look elsewhere. Try a Google search for your author's name and check for things like a LinkedIn or ResearchGate profile, or related publications. 

If a specific author is not identified, your investigation will focus on the organisation which hosts the website. Ask yourself:

  • Is the organisation recognised and trustworthy?
  • Could they have an ulterior motive for presenting the information, particularly a financial motive? 

To find out more about an organisation, see if the webpage has an About us section. Look for any signs of competing interests. If a tobacco company is telling you that cigarettes are good for your health, or a mining company states that coal is good for the environment, you may want to look elsewhere to see if you can validate their claims.

Purpose

Whenever you access information online, you should establish it's purpose. Ask yourself why the content was created.

Is its goal:

  • to inform, by presenting an objective account of the topic?
  • to persuade, by presenting a biased account of the topic?
  • to sell a product? 
  • to entertain?

All information is created with a purpose in mind and that purpose can have an impact on its reliability. If the content seems to only provide one side of the story, chances are it may not be particularly trustworthy.

Using emotive or incendiary language could be a sign that the author is attempting to manipulate you into responding to the information in a particular way, especially if facts or evidence is not presented in support.  ​

Currency

For some research topics, the timeliness of the information presented will be important.

You will need to establish:

  • When the information was published or posted. Not all webpages will include an update date, and you shouldn't trust that a copyright date reflects when the information was made available. 
  • Are any references provided up-to-date? If the author is relying on sources that are over a few years old, it could be a sign that the information is not current.
  • Are all links provided working? Broken links can also be a clue that you are looking at an older source of information. 

Not all research topics require recent information and for some disciplines older sources may be appropriate. Use your judgment as to whether your source meets the needs of your research. 

Relevance

You will need to establish that the information you have found meets the needs of your assignment. Look at the instructions you have been given. 

Ask yourself:

  • Does this source meet the requirements of the assignment:
    • Is it published within a suitable date range? Some assignments will require you to access information which has been published in the last 5 years.
    • Is it in a suitable format? Your lecturer may require that you only use peer-reviewed journal articles or published reports. This means all other information types will be irrelevant for your assignment (even if the subject area is covered).
  • Is the topic covered in enough depth? 
  • Who is the intended audience? Some information may be to basic or general to be useful as an academic source.