What makes a good online source?

Researchpapers, college essays, newspaper articles, and even blog posts all need tohave reliable sources. Thanks to the Internet, there is a sea of informationreadily available on any imaginable subject. But, this does not mean that thedata is reliable or even correct. 

Moreoften than not, writers include information, facts, and descriptions into theirpieces without validating their origin. Resulting in unreliable pieces that canultimately hurt their reputation.

So,what makes a good source? Well, there a few things you need to consider! Belowis a list of questions, that as a professional writer, I believe are crucial indeciding whether or not a source is credible.

Who is the author?

Thefirst thing you need to check is who is the author, and what are his/hercredentials. Ask yourself why this person is a good source for the piece youare writing. For instance, are they an expert in the field? Are they part of anentity or organization directly related to your topic? If you’re not sure, try doinga quick Google search on the author(s) or their organization to validate theirknowledge.

Furthermore,research, how did your source get his/her information on the first place — dothey include references? Does he/she include a bibliography? If they do, theseare excellent indicators that a source is credible. If not, copy/paste asentence into your browser to see if the text can be found elsewhere.

Ifan author is not listed, I immediately tend to discard the source as it makesit harder for me to verify the information. Nonetheless, if you genuinelybelieve the information is useful, a great way to go about it is bycross-checking it with other online sites.

Where is the information published?

Especiallywhen citing or using information found online, it is crucial for you to doublecheck where the data is published. The first thing I usually examine is thewebsite’s URL. Websites ending with .gov (government), .org (non-profit), or.edu (educational) are often good credible sources. Nonetheless, beware ofwebsites that use these kinds of suffixes in an attempt to deceive.

Moreover,avoid using websites where the content is collaboratively published (e.g.,Wikipedia or individual blogs) as the sole source for your information. Theseshould only be used as a reference or secondary source to help you jump-startyour article, essay, or paper. It is a well-known fact that people publishmisleading or bias information on purpose throughout these sites.

Furthermore,always review the ‘About Us’ section of websites, online newspapers/magazines,organizations you are using as a reference. Beware of sites that have anamateurish design, grammatical or spelling mistakes, use all caps or symbolswithin their text as these are often unreliable.

When was the information first published/written?

Currencyis super essential when citing sources, but it also has a lot to with thecontext of your writing. Think of how the date of the publication may affectyour piece or argument. For example, if you are writing a technical paper onrecent scientific discoveries, you would not want your source to be more than ayear old.

Also,always look for updates — well-founded pages are updated and reviewed often.Thus, they are most likely good sources for information. That being said, as arule of thumb, you should avoid older articles unless they are about well-knownpopular concepts. Regardless, of the date of publication, a website shouldalways provide some indication of when the information was first created or lastreviewed.

Is the information bias?

Anyoneand everyone can post an article online expressing their opinion, and this doesnot necessarily make it accurate. Hence, be truly careful of who you decide tocite in your work. Ask yourself if the information can be verified or if thesource is comprehensive.

Also,draw from your own experiences and knowledge on the topic at hand. Forinstance, if an article you find on the web says: “one out of three mensmoke.” Think about how many smokers do you know? Is it possible that onein every three American are smokers? If it something you could see happening,cross-reference it!

Anotherright way of detecting bias sources is by looking at advertisements. Does thearticle indirectly or directly reference a specific brand, product, or service?How connected is the author of the ads he is publishing? Remember, many blogsare used to promote services or products, making them (in most cases)unreliable or bias sources. Therefore, learn to differentiate sponsored contentfrom regular data or information.

Overall,good sources will use a fair, reasoned tone to present information.  Pay close attention to the tone and lookoutfor emotional writing.  Writing that isoverly critical or spiteful often indicates an irrational presentation ratherthan an unbiased source.

Is the information covered accurately?

Asa writer, you must learn to separate good writing from nonprofessional writing.Take a hard look at the way the information is being presented, is itorganized? Is it adequately supported by external material such as charts,images, graphs? Is it well cited? All of these questions will help you decidewhether a source is good or not.

Also,ask yourself who could be the intended audience of the piece. Pay specialattention to the audience addressed throughout the website and see if it fitsyour own audience.

Thereyou have it! These simple questions will help you better asses a source beforeincluding it in your writing as a reference or direct citation. Also, neverforget to give credit where credit is do! I cannot stress this enough, as anexperience writer, I have come across articles and websites that re-postinformation as if it was their own. Aside from the obvious legal issues thatthis type of practices can incur on, it is also a frown upon within theindustry.

Furthermore,remember online sources are not the only good source for a paper or blog. Thereare various other forms of non-digital sources that are also good and currentsuch as book, journals and encyclopedias.

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