• 3-minute read
  • 21st September 2018

4 Tips for Finding Online Sources You Can Trust

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.

With evidence like this, why wouldn't you believe Mad Bob?
With evidence like this, why wouldn’t you believe Mad Bob?
(Photo: RyanMcGuire)

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.

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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.

Even Wikipedia admits that Wikipedia is not a reliable source.

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.

Comments (2)
Nathan Welch
24th January 2021 at 19:48
What are you talking about? Everyone bashed on Wikipedia because it makes them look "academic". I teach 6th grade and every year we have a contest to find false information on Wikipedia. It is more reliable than any Google-searched source they can find.
    25th January 2021 at 10:46
    Hi, Nathan. Wikipedia is useful, as we say in the post, but it is not considered an authoritiative academic source (i.e., at college level and above) because it can be edited by anyone; Wikipedia itself notes this on their website. As such, while college students (and professional academics) may use Wikipedia as part of their research, they should typically use it as a jumping off point to find a more conventional source to cite.

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