To find sources for an essay you need only to turn on your laptop and a plethora of information about almost every imaginable topic will find its way to your fingertips. But even though obtaining information has become easy, finding quality information is more difficult than ever.
The truth is that anybody can mock up a website and press, “publish.” That’s why it is so important to seek out the most accurate sources that you can when incorporating any of this information into an essay or other piece of work.
Check the reliability of your sources. The biggest problem with Internet research is difficulty in identifying whether a source is reliable or not. Some websites push a particular product, while others are written by amateurs. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to make sure a source is reliable.
First, try to avoid pulling information from personal blogs or spammy pages with multiple applets flashing on them. Then ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the author a well-known figure?
- Can I contact the author personally, or find additional information about him or his research elsewhere?
- Is the author affiliated with an organization? If yes, does the data provided reflect the views of the author, or of the entire organization?
- Who is the sponsor?
- Who is the intended audience?
- Is the website current and regularly updated?
- Are there any grammatical or spelling mistakes?
- Are electronic/print sources provided?
- Is the information based on facts or influenced by the author’s emotions?
If the answers leave you unsatisfied, ignore the source and move on.
Take cues from the domain. The type of domain can also help you to determine the credibility of a website. Following are the common ones you’ll encounter:
- .edu = education
- .org = organization
- .gov = government
- .net = network
- .com = commercial
The type of domain can give you an idea of whether it’s biased or not. Suppose you’re viewing a website about the benefits of an artificial drink. A “.org” site will definitely be slanted towards one side of the issue.
Quote the primary source. Let’s say you’re reading an essay on the Internet that features a quote from Kant. While this is a great place to find the secondhand quote, it is important that you look for the original source so that you can cite this in your text.
Look for up-to-date sources. New inventions, discoveries, and research programs are carried out almost every single day, and most new findings make the old ones obsolete. In other words, a few years old is already too old on the Internet.
Quote wisely. Filling your essay with lengthy quotes in order to make it longer is always a temptation. However, long quotes suggest that you cannot think of what to say on your own, and must rely on others for assistance or authority. Use quotes to complement your work, not to define it.
Do not plagiarize. Because the information on the Internet is protected by copyright laws, unless stated otherwise, you must always cite your sources. No matter if you’re using a quote as it is or paraphrasing it, always cite your sources. Remember, citing electronic sources is slightly different, so check out the pertinent standard citation manuals.
If you really want to write a convincing essay, you should go beyond “Sharon’s And Tracy’s Homepage,” “Steve Robins’ Blog,” and “teenstuffonline,” and enhance your Internet research with primary sources and with data from academic journals and print books.