Verifying Web Information

The old saying, "Don't believe everything you read in the papers!," should be updated to, "Don't believe everything you read on the Internet!" Much of the information obtained online is undoubtedly valid, but you should exercise caution.

There are many fine electronic journals and renowned magazines offered online, and responsible researchers abound on the Internet. However, the Internet and all of its venues are open forums; anyone with access to a computer and some basic skills can post information on the Internet. Inaccurate material may reside next to very pure data. It is possible to find information with no solid research behind its assumptions and with no empirical data to support its conclusions. Worse yet, it is possible for someone to falsify data, which has happened in the print world as well. With Web research, however the responsibility is put on you to question what you are reading, and to make sure it can be verified.

How do you know if online material is valid and reliable? The material on the Internet is not rated or ranked, nor are there standard publishing houses for materials within certain fields. There are, however, some general guidelines to follow in evaluating Web sites. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What do I know about the site? What type of organization produced it? How current is the information? (The domain name may provide a clue as to how credible the site is. For example, sites with the domain name of .edu or .gov should be reliable. You will see the names of widely recognized Web sites recurring in directories and virtual libraries. Most sites list the date the site was last updated at the bottom of the Web page.)
  • What do I know about the author? Is he or she a credible source, or are biases and commercial interests a determining factor? Does the author reference or cite or link to other sites? (To help answer those questions, you can search the Web to find background information on the author. The more frequently the author's name reappear in various sites, the more credible he or she is likely to be.)
  • Does the information seem credible based on other sources you have researched? (If the material seems questionable and inconsistent with previous sources, you will want to find corroborating documents in other sites that support the various points of view.)

These are only basic guidelines, alerting you to exercise caution. The most important advice is to do your research with a critical eye. As your online experience increases, you will also become an experienced researcher.


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