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Evaluating Sources: Home

This guide will help you determine the value of information you gather searching the internet (www) and offer suggestions for successful research gathering.

Introduction

The Internet is a wonderful source of information, much of which we would likely never be exposed to within our everyday lives. There is an infinite amount of reliable, scholarly, and accurate material available, which grows in volume daily. In addition to this helpful information, however, there is an abundance of inaccurate, biased, and downright wrong material which pops up on your computer screen.

The internet has its place in research. Searching Google or Wikipedia can be useful to begin getting background information on your topic. Government agencies, colleges and universities, and nonprofit organizations all make information freely available.

Unfortunately, there are many downsides to using the web for research. Much of what appears on the web is not only unreliable but also often includes deliberate misinformation. Searches can yield millions of duplicate or irrelevant results.

Remember, anyone can post anything on the internet, and it is up to you, as the reader, to evaluate the validity of material presented.

Library Databases

Most library databases contain a mixture of scholarly and non-scholarly content, though some contain only scholarly content, making these the best choice for academic research.

Database searches are very precise, meaning that your search results are likely to be very relevant to the search terms you use, and, assuming that your topic is narrow enough, there is likely to be a much more manageable number of results.

Databases also have a number of advanced features, usually referred to as limiters because they limit the number of search results to exactly what you request. For example, you can limit a search by publication date, language, document type (e.g., case study, film review, literary criticism), or whether the results come from peer-reviewed journals, to name just a few.

However, one challenge to using databases is that they do not understand natural language. In order to yield the precise results they do, they require a precise search free of extraneous language. Some knowledge of Boolean Operators is useful.

Search Engine Results

One thing to keep in mind when you search the internet using a search engine is that these are commercial ventures. You will notice various advertisements and popups along with search results. The order in which the results are listed on your screen can be determined by selling the spot to the highest bid advertisers (Sponsor Results), the "page rank" which the search engine assigns, or how often the information is updated.

Unlike databases available through the library or pre-evaluated indexes to websites, much of the information that presents itself on your first screen of results is not evaluated for accuracy or reviewed by experts in the field of study. Its placement on the results list is up to the discretion of the search engine administrator.

Niagara County Community College. Henrietta G. Lewis Library. 3111 Saunders Settlement Rd., Sanborn, NY 14132 | 716-614-6786