Finding quality on the internet

The Internet contains an enormous amount of information, but the quality varies widely. Since there are no standards for content or format of freely available Internet resources, it is up to the user to locate and access quality information. All resources must meet certain criteria, such as authority and accuracy, to prove their value. However, the quantity and diversity of Internet information complicate the evaluation process.

When evaluating information, always consider:

  • Who has made the information available; what credentials do they have? Are they connected to an organization?
  • Why have they posted this information: are they hoping to sell something, to convince the reader of an opinion, or are they trying to provide objective information?
  • When was the information made available? Be cautious of "last updated" dates; only some of the information may have been updated.
  • Can the information be verified in other sources on the Internet or in the Library? Be aware that Internet sources often copy from each other; find the original source of information if you can.
  • What is your own purpose for this information? Older information, or information with a particular point of view, may be useful for certain purposes.
  • Internent addresses (URLs) provide some clues as to the purpose and quality of sites.

Before you copy any information from the Internet, check: copyright regulations.

Google

Google is a wonderful tool, but it should not be your only choice for research. Some reasons why:

  • Google ranks results by popularity (by how many sites link to each result). This isn't necessarily the same as quality
  • Google individualizes search results and may connect you to information that fits with your past searches rather than providing a balanced view of a topic
  • much scholarly information is locked inside databases that Google can't access or can only access for a price
  • recent publications may be buried deep in Google results (not many sites point to new information)
  • hard to verify information and track down the original source using Google, since web sites often copy from each other

Before you pay for information, check the Library. We may have bought that very document or something even better.

Google Scholar

Google Scholar lists a growing amount of academic information, especially for the sciences. Not all material is truly "scholarly," but you will find information--reports, preprints, etc.--not available through the Library.

To connect to resources paid for by the library:

Google Book Search

Google Book Search is useful for searching inside books, including those the library owns and ones we don't own.

  • link from Google Book Search to find a nearby library with the book: choose "Find this Book in a Library" then enter location: Ontario. Links to a freely available version of WorldCat.
  • useful for verifying quotations (find the wording, source, pages numbers)
  • provides summaries, reviews and cover images for many books
  • note that books out of copyright may be available full text in pdf. See, for example, History of Canada: From Its First Discovery, to the Year 1791

Wikipedia

Wikipedia is a rapidly growing free encyclopedia maintained by its community of readers. It is an amazing resource but, like Google, shouldn't be your only tool for research.

Remember: Wikipedia's policy is to include no original research. For your assignments, you need to track the sources of information.

Pros

  • Includes topics not yet mentioned in traditional sources
  • Gives timely coverage of unfolding events
  • Many articles include references and links
  • Many errors and biases are quickly discovered and removed
  • Edits and changes are tracked
  • Some pages are protected from editing to prevent "vandalism." See, for example, Stephen Harper
  • Allows the user to both read and add to content: to engage in active, creative learning

Cons

  • Anyone, knowledgeable or not, can write or edit articles
  • Authors are anonymous
  • Wikipedia reflects popular views, which may or may not be supported by evidence although errors are often corrected quickly, at any given time, Wikipedia will include many uncorrected errors
  • Topics reflect community interests more than academic interests. (for example, the article on Tolkien's Middle Earth is longer than articles for some real countries)
  • Citing articles is problematic because they can change at any time
  • Wikipedia articles rank high in Google results partly because they repeat keywords and because they contain many incoming links (definitions, more information links, etc.)

Suggestions

  • Read user comments to get insight into the editing process and possible biases
  • Before using information from Wikipedia (or any encyclopedia) verify it in another source

Further reading