The information age is called that for a reason. With the invention of the internet, you have what seems like an infinite amount of information at your fingertips. This comes in handy when you do research for school, work, or in your free time. Whether it’s a school, business development, or family history, it’s important to compile facts. So, how do you know which sources to trust and which to disregard? Here are some research best practices.
What’s the Domain?
The first thing you should look at is the URL of the webpage. This can separate a trusted site from one that needs a closer look. Chances are better if the site is either government-run or linked to an educational institution. These sites will have a domain that ends with either .gov or .edu. To get these types of URLs, the institution needs to prove they are associated with an accredited school or government body according to Techwalla and Dotgov.
However, there are two things to keep in mind. Sometimes a school will give a student a .edu domain, so be sure to check the author’s credentials. Also, many people assume .org addresses are affiliated with nonprofits or charities, but unlike a .edu or .gov website, any organization can acquire a .org domain.
Look at the Author
Who wrote the piece? It says a lot that someone is willing to associate their name with information that anyone can read. While many government websites are published without an author, any news source worth its salt will attach a name to each article. Often, you can click on the name to find out more about the author, which could explain why they are an expert in the field and why they can be trusted.
How is the Site Designed?
While a poorly designed site may have good information, a poorly designed site can indicate something else. The first is that the information might be really old (especially if the site looks like this classic example from Angelfire from the days of yore) and therefore not the most accurate. The other is that whatever research is on the page might not be associated with the most professional organization. Most organizations now have the funding to build a professional-looking site. If the site looks outdated, it doesn’t always mean the information you find is bad, but you should investigate it more closely.
Check the Writing Style
Usually, if the writing style is a flatter (read boring) academic style, this could indicate a trusted source. However, if the writing features slang, personal pronouns, or anecdotal stories, you may want to stay away. Also, you should be careful of sources that don’t cite other sources or are riddled with grammar and/or spelling mistakes. These are the marks of a writer who may not be associated with a professional organization.
Use Your Best Judgment
After researching a specific subject for some time, you’ll start to understand what’s right and wrong. Therefore, any information that doesn’t line up with what you understand about your area of research might need a closer look. This isn’t to say that the information is bad, just that you need to be careful about using it until the source can be verified through a secondary source, such as a scientific journal or encyclopedia.
If you are just beginning the research process and don’t know where to start, try searching your topic on Wikipedia. While you should never quote from this site, you can get a solid overview of the topic. Wikipedia pages can be well-cited, so although the page itself is off-limits, there are plenty of good articles linked on the page that can useful.
Research on any topic can be a daunting prospect, whether you’re doing it for work, school,
or fun. Make sure to look at each source carefully so you know you are getting reliable information. Remember that using incorrect information from dubious sources could put your professional and academic life on the line, so stay alert.