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Physics: Evaluating Web Resources

This Guide is specially created to help physics faculty and students find the best resources in the library.

Evaluating Web Resources

Research Guide: Assessing Sources
*adapted for this course by Mary van Opstal

Evaluating the credibility and validity of a resource can be very difficult, particularly when doing research using the Internet. Below are some basic guidelines to help you select reliable resources and use those to learn accurate information about a given subject.

Characteristics of Reliable Sources

1. Authority: Who is sponsoring the information? The URL can provide information about the origin of the resource. The following are examples of ways you can determine the type of organization that is sponsoring the content for a specific website
Sites ending in….
.edu are usually educational institutions and generally a good source of information
.gov are government websites and usually, good sources for statistical information
.org are typically non-profit organizations often set up as a public service. Be on the lookout for political agendas and biases.

Example: If you are looking for information about climate change, then you might check .edu sites or peer-reviewed publications for statistics related to carbon dioxide levels, or research pertaining to climate change. Sites affiliated with specific biases on climate change will probably be listed as .com sites or news sites or organizations with funding from specific sources. Always check to see if another site says the same thing. If it’s different information or has a different argument than it is important to check more sources.

While interesting, these are usually not fact-based and as a general rule should not be used for conducting research.

Online magazines or journals
These articles often contain a detailed bibliography and site-specific resources as evidence for claims and statistics. Journal articles are peer-reviewed which means that at least several other people have reviewed the data and article for credibility before allowing it to be published.

Online news sources
Virtually every network and cable news station have an online site as do local affiliates. It is important to realize that while they do provide news, they are also involved in the entertainment industry and may present some information that is opinion vs. fact-based.

Television/Internet video news broadcasts
When viewing a video, keep in mind that if it is not from a source that can be accurately documented with an origin, date, and key information like who, what, when, where, why, and how, then the source may not be credible.

1. Accuracy: Sources for the factual content on the site are clear. There is someone verifying the accuracy of the information being presented. Verify the author’s credentials. Credentials include having expertise in the area of science being discussed, a job title that relates to the area being discussed. Example: Dr. Robert Green is sited as a physician who was in charge of a study that produced specific results or the Center for Disease control provided certain statistical data.

2. Objectivity: The content is provided for public service or educational use. These sites usually provide links to additional information and are free of advertising for products related to the topic.

3. Timeliness: The date of the information and/or the last update is clearly stated on the page. 

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Jennifer Lau-Bond
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