How Do I Find Online Resources That Are Reliable and Trustworthy?
Websites, online databases, and other electronic resources are especially helpful when researching evolving subject areas, like the sciences, because new information is constantly emerging. Finding useful websites with accurate and reliable information isn’t easy; here are some hints to help you in your search for authoritative sources:
- What is the link suffix? You can generally trust .edu (education), and .gov (government) sites, because the qualifications for those addresses are specific in terms of acceptable standards. Organization sites, .org, are usually reliable, but are less regulated. That said, there are always exceptions, so use your best judgment, and ALWAYS cross-reference with multiple sources!
- Author: When consulting a book to research a
subject, you would want to know the author and his credentials to know the
source is authoritative; the same holds true for a website. Is there an “About” section? Most reputable sites
and organizations will tell you who they are, why the site exists, and any
relevant contributors’ credentials. Also note if contact or email links are
available which would allow you to ask the author or sponsoring organization
for more information. If you cannot verify the author of a website, either
personal or corporate, be wary.
- Text: Is the argument presented logically, evenly, and without bias?
- Editorial Policy: The whole website is important, not just the page or section you consult. Is there a mission or purpose statement, or evidence of a consultant review or editorial board? Has the website been read and reviewed by experts (a.k.a. “Peer Review”)?
- Publisher or Sponsoring Organization: This information must now be included in all MLA citations for online sources. Like the name of the author, the publisher or sponsoring organization is necessary for print publications, and should be available for reputable online sources, too. This information should be clearly stated, easy to locate, and preferably with an accompanying link to more information about the organization. The link suffix will help you determine what kind of organization it is (e.g. “.com” = commercial, “.edu” = educational, etc.).
- Accuracy and Verifiability: Is there a Works Cited or References section? You should be able to verify all information presented by tracing the author(s)’ sources. Are these sources up-to-date?
- Currency: Make sure the website you are consulting is current by checking the publication date. Ideally, the site will have dates for revisions and updates—not just initial publication or copyright.