Evaluating material from the Internet is as important as evaluating every book and article that you use during the research process. By asking critical questions about your online resources, you can determine the reliability and accuracy of the information you have found.
Preus Library provides students with access to a large amount of electronic information, ranging from the databases you might use to find scholarly articles, to full-text journals online and electronic dictionaries and encyclopedias. These resources provide a quick and reliable way to access peer-reviewed scholarly information. "Peer-reviewed" articles have been examined by subject experts before publication and are considered accurate and appropriate for use in scholarly research.
The databases listed in the Find Scholarly Articles section of these How-To's are generally good places to start. JSTOR, Project MUSE, America: History & Life, or Historical Abstracts, contain only scholarly information (much of which is peer-reviewed), and Academic OneFile has a search option to include only those journals that are peer-reviewed.
All of these resources can be accessed through the library’s home page and the online catalog.
Search engines such as Google are also available for research. Often, these searches yield large amounts of information that require some degree of evaluation on your part. Some web sites can be rich sources of information for research projects, particularly those that make available primary source material that is too costly or rare to be among the holdings in Preus Library.
The structure of the Internet can present any number of problems for serious researchers, because although it makes retrieving certain pieces of information easy enough through the use of search engines, it can be difficult to know exactly who is responsible for presenting that information. Let’s say you’re investigating 16th century opinions of Shakespeare. Unless you check carefully, you would have no way of knowing whether any given web page was produced by a respected historian, a publisher trying to sell books, a seventh-grade student who likes the idea of putting everything she writes on the web, or an academic library trying to make archival materials available to the wider public.
If you research the same question using the library databases mentioned above, you would have a better chance of finding resources that discuss contemporary opinions about Shakespeare.
By using questions about peer-review, comparison of sources, and corroborating the facts, you can build your skills for evaluating online materials. Do not hesitate to ask your instructor or librarian for help in evaluating the merits of a web source.
Here are some basic questions to consider as you evaluate information, especially the online resources you find with a search engine: