Something that all students have to grapple with is how to find the best possible research materials for their papers. The Internet is an amazing tool, and has added to both the excellence and the mediocrity of student work. The value of your work will directly relate to the value of your research, and when you're using websites as a main source of information, you never know what you're gonna get.
Even if you can't tell at first click, however, there are some things you can do to figure it out. Take into consideration this information from the Mildred Elley Library website: In order to figure out if a website is credible or not, you have to consider the Authority, the Objectivity, the Accuracy, and the Currency of the website.
Let's look at two examples of websites that I often see students using to get background information for papers, Web M.D. and Medline Plus. The sites look similar, but there are some significant differences in the value of their content. And here's why.
While WebMd is often written by medical professionals or "reviewed by" doctors, their articles are aimed at consumers, not researchers.
MedlinePlus has content authored by different government agencies. For an article I found on diabetes, the author was listed as the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. The National Institute of Health provides the information for this website, as you can see in the web address. It's a .gov site rather than a .com site.
A website is objective when it presents different points of view fairly and accurately, without bias. One clue that a website is not objective is the presence of advertisments. If a website is covered in ads (3 popped up while I was manuvering around WebMD) that means that the companies and indivuduals buying the adspace on the site could potentially have some input on what kind of content is published. This decreases the credibility of that piece of "research."
Is the information reliable and accurate? If the website is written by experts/professionals and peer reviewed, it is more likely to contain facts as opposed to "fact-like pieces of information." For example, the government agencies listed would be liable for any misleading/mistaken information posted on the MedlinePlus site. This probably means that the information provided on the site will be more accurate than other sites.
In this case, WebMD's information is not necessarily inaccurate, but you have to ask yourself: what is the BEST source available for my research?
Is the website up to date? When was the information published? In most cases, the more recent the information, the better.
These are the four main ways you can evaluate web content and decide if the website or article is going to stregthen your paper or detract from your argument.