When you’re searching online for information for your assignments, you’ll find a wealth of information – but how do you know what you can trust? What’s reliable enough to be included in your academic work?
Top 5 tips for evaluating online information
1. Ask questions
Before quoting information that you find, ask yourself the following questions:
Authority: is the author of the page/site a subject expert, or a trustworthy organisation?
Accuracy and reliability: is the information fact or opinion? Is it influenced by an agenda, or providing only one point of view? Is the spelling and grammar correct?
Currency: is the page and its information up to date, and updated regularly?
Audience: who is the information aimed at? Schoolchildren, university students, medical professionals – and is this the right level for the work that you are doing?
Feel: does the site look well-maintained and well-structured?
2. Think about trying a different source
A general Google search returns all sorts of information, some of it personal to you, and for your academic work you’ll want to use more scholarly, academic research rather than personalised searching. Google Scholar can be used to narrow your general search to more academic sources. To make the most of Google Scholar you can adjust the settings to show links to items available through the Library. For instructions and further information, have a look at our guide to accessing Google Scholar, or Google’s own search tips.
3. Make the most of the Library resources
Be aware that Google Scholar has limited reach online, and might have patchy coverage of the articles or topics you’re interested in! You don’t want to miss information, so use the Library’s Summon discovery service and subject databases – your subject guide includes a list of selected reliable, authoritative databases and website for your subject.
4. Evaluate everything!
You should always be evaluating your sources – use the criteria above to consider how appropriate the information you find is to your assignment. Apply the criteria above to general online searching, and on academic databases as well.
5. Still not sure? Ask for help
You can ask your subject liaison librarian for guidance on finding good quality resources for your study and research.
Watch the Study Advice tutorial on evaluating your sources – this is great if you’re new to academic study and aren’t sure which sources of information are best placed to include in your academic work.
One thing to take away from this post: you’ll find all of this guidance on the Library’s online guide to evaluating websites, bookmark this page and read it again!
This is one of a series of tips designed to help you save time and effort finding or using information.
This tip was written by Kim Coles, Liaison Team Manager.