I often find myself desperately in search of up-to-date sources, combing databases for work relevant to my topic. Looking for sources can be frustrating, as I type in dozens of different combinations of words to no avail. And then it happens: I find a website or online article that is perfect for my paper, and will provide much-needed support for my thesis statement. Because the article is exactly what I’m looking for, I struggle to critically examine the site in order to answer the question: Is this source reliable?
Amidst the experts and academics, the internet is also full of opinions, conspiracy theories, and lies, sometimes presented as the work of authorities in the field. We cannot always trust how people or organizations are representing themselves online, so it’s important to do our homework before referencing any internet source.
To determine whether the source is legitimate, I usually start by evaluating for biases. Does the author or publisher have anything to gain by presenting material in a certain light? If the website is trying to sell me something, it may not be objective. From there, I use this guide to help me evaluate the source more carefully.
When I find a source that looks good, part of me is reluctant to question it because I want so badly for the search to be over. However, even better than the relief of finding a reference for my paper is the peace of mind that comes with knowing that my thesis is supported by an objective, credible, and well-respected source. It is worth the effort, because when my sources are reliable, I can feel confident in the strength of my paper.
Graduate Assistant, Writing Center
Antioch University, New Hampshire