Online sources can be vital when researching a college paper. But the internet is also a massive repository of lies and nonsense. And that means that you need to be careful when citing a website in your written work. So, then, how can you find online sources you can truly trust?
1. Check the Credentials
Look at who wrote and published the page you’ve found. Ideally, it will have a named author who you can google to find their qualifications and past publications. If you cannot find any information, look elsewhere.
Likewise, online sources published by well-known organizations are usually more trustworthy. For example, an article about urban myths posted on the Scientific American website will be more trustworthy than a post by Mad Bob the Bigfoot Hunter taken from www.crypto-news.bz.
2. Writing Quality
A reliable source should be well written and error free, so look out for spelling or grammar mistakes on websites you want to cite. If nothing else, a lack of proofreading may suggest the author has been similarly careless when it comes to fact checking!
Similarly, the tone of a website can tell you a lot. It is typically a good sign if the language is formal and academic. If it is informal or full of slang terms, however, you might want to look elsewhere.
3. Crosscheck Sources
If you find new information online but aren’t sure you trust the website, check whether it cites any sources. This could be a reference list, but it could also be links to other sites that provide extra information or data to back up the point being made.
Find this useful?
Subscribe to our newsletter and get writing tips from our editors straight to your inbox.
It is also a good idea to crosscheck sources against one another. If you find a useful statistic on one website, for instance, look to see if it is used on other reliable sites. This is especially important when a page was published years previously, since the information may not be up to date.
4. Don’t Cite Wikipedia
We have nothing personal against Wikipedia. In fact, it is a fantastic free source of information on a huge array of topics for day-to-day life. The problem is that is isn’t always entirely factual.
Anyone can edit a Wikipedia page, after all. And that is a bit like anyone being able to come along and rewrite the books in your college library, which we imagine would cause problems.
But while it is not an academic source, Wikipedia can be helpful. If you find some interesting facts in an article, check the citations at the bottom of the page. These should point to more reliable sources, such as books or journal articles. You can then find these and use the original sources instead.