Internet Searching: Assessing Search and Results

You have to evaluate every item you find on the Internet before you use it in your research. There are a wide variety of sources available.

You can find an example of nearly every type of source on the Internet, but the more scholarly, up-to-date, orWho sponsors a website, look at the URL. The ending is called a top-level domain. For example: .edu=Schools, colleges, universities, .org=Advocacy or non profit groups or any person or entity, .com=Business or corporation or any person or entity, .gov=U.S. government agencies, .mil=U.S. Military agencies, and .net=any person or entity. accurate your information needs to be, the less likely it is to be available for free. Once you know what types of sources are appropriate for your assignment, you can use that information to focus your search.

Why was this page posted?
One of the best questions to ask about a webpage as you evaluate the content is: Why was this page posted? Remember every site is created to achieve a specific purpose and to address a target audience such as, to sell advertising, to persuade you to do something or think a certain way, or to disseminate information. How does the purpose affect the content?

For example, suppose you are writing a paper on global warming. A governmental site (.gov) could contain environment data collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an education site (.edu) could give a pre-print of an academic paper that has not yet been published, an organization site (.org) could give you a viewpoint of an advocacy group which purports that global warming is a hoax and you could find a business (.com) that sells carbon offset credits to individuals to lower their carbon footprint. Each of these sites would offer different content which would be shaped by their purpose, goals and sponsorship.

You have to critically assess both the site and the individual page or document you are using to determine if it is acceptable for your research. Learn more about Evaluating Internet Sources (PDF).

What about Wikipedia?
User-generated sites, such as Wikipedia, can have wide variation between individual entries. Some include pages of information backed up by dozens of citations from reliable web and print sources, and others contain only a paragraph linked to one or two websites. Wikipedia, no matter how well written, is not considered scholarly. One of the best uses of Wikipedia is to provide background information. Generally it should not be cited in your work. Also verify any information found in Wikipedia in another source such as a journal article or a book before using if it's an assignment or paper.

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