Starting a research project can be difficult. With the internet easily accessible, it is easy to search for information but difficult to determine which sources are reliable and which are not. You may think because a source is written by a professor or someone with credentials, it is reliable, but this is not always the case. You may think that because something is well written and well presented, it is accurate, but this is not necessarily the case. The accessibility of all kinds of information on the Internet, real and bogus, makes it imperative for you to exercise judgment about what you accept as true. Evaluating sources and making informed decisions about the credibility of sources is essential before you risk repeating false information in your own work. In order to do that, there are a few things you should keep in mind. Below are some suggestions for evaluating sources and then an activity to get you started on finding sources for your own research.
Things you MUST know about sources before you use them
The date of publication (or creation)
Where you found the source (online, in a book, magazine, journal, etc, not just in what database)
If it’s a web source, not published material, who created it and for what purpose.
Different sources and whether or not they are USUSALLY reliable
Some sources are more reliable than others. For instance, the internet may have LOTS of information that is very easy for you to access (you can do it at home in your pajamas if you want to), but that does not mean it is reliable. It is much more time consuming to find books on the subject you are researching—you have to go to the library, get dressed, and actually walk up and down stairs—but published books are usually much more reliable than the average information found on a Google search. The following talks about the pros and cons of finding research and data in different types of sources.
Wikipedia and similar sites (about.com and other informational sites) can help you get started but should not be considered reliable sources. You will want to do further research to confirm any information you find on these sites, and you should not plan to put them into your bibliography as a research-based source. In many cases, there is no way to know who provided the information and whether or not it has been confirmed. Start here but never end here.
Books are generally reliable. If you can find them in the library at Temple they are there because they were published based on the author’s credentials, original research with data and primary sources, secondary research (all the citations in the books), and the reputation of the publisher. Not all publishers are trustworthy, but university presses are usually reliable as are major publishing houses. They only publish reliable authors, and they all have editors who check information to ensure its truthfulness.
In addition to finding books in the library, you can also locate books on Amazon.com or Google books. Often, you can read reviews of the books on those sites, and in many cases, actually look at the table of contents to see if the book contains relevant information. Sometimes you can even read chapters online, which can make actually taking the book out of the library unnecessary.
ARTICLES FROM JOURNALS
Like books, academic journals are also usually reliable (these are different than magazines or other print publications which we’ll talk about below). Articles from academic journals are also based on the author’s credentials, they usually go through the process of peer review (other scholars review the material and decide whether it’s worthy of publication), They have research and citations just like books. Most academic journal articles CANNOT be found through free website searches. To find them, you will have to do a search through the library’s website or Google Scholar. The library