Finding a resource you can trust online, whether it be for a research essay or just your own personal education on worldly topics, can be hard to do. One must carefully evaluate sources, looking for certain criteria. The main issue is credibility. There are many aspects to determining a source’s credibility.
First, lets look at the obvious problem. Let us say a student is writing an article about the state of rap and Hip-Hop music today. Gavin’s Blog has a post about the rapper Eminem’s treatment of women in his music, stating that the rapper is not a misogynist. A blogger’s post detailing their personal thoughts on Eminem isn’t a good source for a scholarly essay about Hip-Hop music because it is only opinion, and has no sources (but that is another problem, addressed below). The main problem with Gavin’s Blog is that Gavin, while he is popular in Ireland and has had articles in the Irish Examiner and the New Statesman, as said in his About, is not qualified to speak knowledgeably about rap music, or even Eminem. He states in his About that he studied history and politics at university, not urban music. Nowhere is there any evidence that his is a credible source on any kind of music at all – he just has an opinion. Thus, Gavin’s Blog would not be a good source for an article.
On the other hand, the article Eminem Is Right might very well be a good source. A quick search of the author, Mary Eberstadt, reveals that she does American society, culture, and philosophy research at Stanford University. This is a field very close to Hip-Hop and Rap culture. In addition, she cites plenty of sources.
By looking up the credentials of Eberstadt and Gavin, our theoretical writer can use Eberstadt in their essay with confidence, while putting the blog entry aside as a good read but a bad source. A source is credible only if they are knowledgeable in their field.
Another thing to look out for in an internet source is bias. This is especially true for political and news websites. Even if your website or article is written by a person or company qualified to speak on the subject, one must check to see if the writer has some agenda that might distort the information they are giving. While a bias on a subject may not be a deal-breaker for a source, it is important to know it exists.
Another way to see if a source is credible is to see if they provide sources of their own, as seen above. If a website has information but no sources, that is to say, no proof, it is very likely not a good source.
The final suggestion for determining credibility is how up-to-date it is. If a blog or website has not been added to in years, it could very well be out of date.
Perhaps the most basic question to ask of a source when evaluating it is to ask yourself: why should I believe any of this? Don’t just accept things on faith – demand proof, knowledge, and well thought out ideas rather than sound bytes.