How do you find reliable information online? Libraries are in the business of helping people find good information. It's such an important topic for us that we'd like to re-run this post on how to evaluate information online.
Is it true? It can be hard to know if what you read online is true. One way to find more reliable information is to use the library’s online resources - with articles compiled from relevant encyclopedias, handbooks and reference resources, as well as print publications like newspapers and magazines. Log in to these resources from home using your library card and PIN numbers (except where noted "In-library use only").
No matter where you find your information, it’s always good to know how to evaluate that information for reliability. Here are some tips for determining whether what you’re reading is trustworthy.
- Where does the article come from? Some websites are better known for reliable news reporting. Others are known as clickbait sites - websites that sacrifice reliability for exciting headlines that get clicks for advertisers.
- Who wrote the article? Is the author of the website easily identified? Do they have listed credentials in the field they’re writing about? Learn about content farms - companies that hire low-paid writers with little expertise to generate articles on frequently searched topics. If you’re researching a medical concern, for example, you’d probably rather read an article by someone who can be identified as having medical knowledge and training, instead of someone making a few dollars an hour to turn out as many articles as possible.
- Look at web domains. That “dot com” is so common, you might not think about what it means or what the other options are. The letters after the dot refer to top level domains, originally designed to identify what kind of organization sponsors the website.
.com = a company, usually for-profit
.edu = a school or university
.gov = a government entity
.org = originally for a nonprofit organization, now open to other organizations
Knowing what kind of organization sponsored the website can help you determine what their motive in publishing the information might be, and help you evaluate its reliability. Also, a strange web domain (abc.com.co) might indicate it’s an unreliable site trying to mimic a more legitimate site.
- Look at the About Us section of the website. Knowing the organization’s stated purpose can also help you determine their motive, and whether they might have a bias in what they choose to publish and how they approach it. If there’s no About Us section, this might make that site a questionable source.
- Does the article cite any sources? Most writers doing legitimate research and reporting cite their sources. If someone says “studies say” and then links to those studies, you can double-check them to make sure the writer is really interpreting them correctly. If someone says “studies say” but doesn’t tell you what any of those studies are, it makes them look questionable.
- Do other websites agree? There’s a reason most teachers tell their students to find at least three resources for their research. One resource might have an error. Two might disagree with each other, but if three or more resources say the same thing, it’s more likely to be accurate. However, if three different websites have identical text, it’s likely they copied from each other without verifying whether the information was true first.
Need more help navigating information? Ask your librarian! We’re in the business of helping people access good information.