4 ways to differentiate a good source from a bad source
Research papers are a large part of many college courses, and the quality of your paper will only be as good as your research. The internet makes research on almost any topic more convenient and accessible than in the past, but it also presents some challenges. With all the information that’s online, how do you know if you’re using a reliable source?
The following tips will help you tell a good source from one that’s biased, outdated, or inaccurate:
1. Check the domain name
Look at the three letters at the end of the site’s domain name, such as “edu” (educational), “gov” (government), “org” (nonprofit), and “com” (commercial). Generally, .edu and .gov websites are credible, but beware of sites that use these suffixes in an attempt to mislead. Nonprofit websites may also contain reliable information, but take some time to consider the organization’s purpose and agenda to determine if it could be biased. Commercial websites, such as those of reputable news organizations, can also be good sources, but do some investigation to look for signs of reliability.
Also, you can check online to see who owns a domain name and whether the owner’s IP address is in the U.S. or abroad.
2. Take a closer look at the source
Does the article or study have any authors listed? If so, do they cite or link to authoritative sources, or are they writing their own opinions without backing these up with facts? Are their credentials listed?
Additionally, check the date of publication. In some cases, it may not matter if the source is older or hasn’t been recently updated, but in fields of study where information can rapidly change, the data may be obsolete.
3. Search for additional information to back up what you’ve found
As you find information, try to verify its authenticity and legitimacy using other reliable sites. If you find another credible site that contradicts your original source, further research may be required.
4. Use certain sources only to jump-start additional research
Wikipedia offers a large volume of information, but because its entries are created in a collaborative effort involving many different users, its reliability can vary widely. In some cases, users deliberately place incorrect information on the site; in others, well-meaning users unintentionally introduce inaccuracies. For these reasons, you can use Wikipedia as a jumping-off point to spark more research, but not as a source on its own.
Individual blogs, online forums, chat rooms, etc.
Much like Wikipedia, sources such as individuals’ blogs, online forums and chat rooms can be used to fuel further research, but shouldn’t be relied upon as sources of dependable information.
If you have a question about the authenticity of a source, you can always reach out to your professor; the University Writing Center at The University of Texas at El Paso; or the UTEP Library, which offers assistance via email (firstname.lastname@example.org), SMS (915-249-3383) and phone (915-747-5643 or 915-747-5638).
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