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ENG101: Composition Research Guide: What's Good on the Web

Selected research resources and tools for students doing research in their ENG101 classes. The basics of doing research in Feinberg Library.

Not All Information is Created Equal

Things you should consider to help you judge if the info you find is reliable.

  • The Author (and their credentials)
    The author of a web page can be an individual, a group of individuals, an organization, a government agency etc.... Once you determine who the author is you want to find out what their credentials are - credentials are things like degrees, professional experience, and what institutions they may be affiliated with. Since authors can write about anything, be sure that the author is addressing topics in which they are experts. For example you would likely trust a medical Dr.'s advice on health issues, but you may be wary if he was writing about how to make money in the stock market. 
  • The Site Owner/Publisher
    Web sites can be created by individuals, organizations, schools, companies, government agencies, etc... Determining whose site it is can help you determine what the purpose of the site is - educational, informational, entertainment, comerce, etc... Search the web site to get information about its owner - many times you can find an 'About' link with this information. If you have never heard of the site owner be wary of using their information.

    Sometimes it is very difficult to figure out who owns a site, but you can always use Network Solutions' WHOIS search to find out who registered the URL.
  • The Date
    Most web pages should have a date. It may be the date the page was created, the date the information is copyrighted or the date it was last updated. The date information is usually found either at the very top or very bottom of the page.
    The date is important because you want to be sure you have current and up to date information. Particularly with topics like technology, science or medicine new discoveries and advances are being made all the the time.
  • The Citations
    As a student you are required to provide citations for the information you use. You should have the same high standards for the information you collect. Not all sources (especially news sources) use citations listed at the end of their pages. In many cases sources of information are listed within the text. If a site is giving you facts and figures, be sure you know where they are getting their data and that it is reliable and up to date.
  • The Content
    It may be obvious, but be sure to read the web page to see if the information on it is on topic for your research and that it is written at a level appropriate for college research. Be wary of pages with lots of typos and spelling mistakes.

  • The Bias
    Bias is when an individual or group takes a side on an issue. You will need to carefully read the content of a page to see if it is biased. Signs of a bias include only providing facts that support their position, or indicating that the other side doesn't really have a case. Being biased does not mean the information is necessarily wrong, but to be objective you would need to balance your sources with information from other sites. It is likely to find biased sites when researching controversial issues like abortion, gun control and politics in general.   

Other Resources about Evaluating web pages:

Using Google Better

Google is great if you know how to navigate advanced search and harness the power of google scholar.

Google Scholar (Advanced Search) Finds Published Articles, Books, Conference Precedings and Reports