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Optometry: The Web

Why use web sources?

There are many approaches to searching the Web. The route you take and the search tools you choose will depend on the kind of information you are looking for. This page should offer some insight into different ways of thinking about web sources.

Web sources have many advantages:

  • they are easy to find
  • they are easy to access
  • they can be very up-to-date

But remember:

  • Not all types of information are freely available on the Web
  • The authority of a web source can be difficult to establish - how do you know it's reliable?

This is why using resources such as journal articles can complement the information that you find on the Web, and vice versa.

Evaluating web sources

Anyone can put information on the web, so how can we tell if it's reliable and accurate?

Think about these questions:

  • Who is the author?  Do they have qualifications/a reputation in the relevant area?
  • Is the web site affiliated with an organisation?  If so, what is the mission of that organisation?
  • Has the information been properly referenced?  Are the references authoritative?
  • When was the site last updated?
  • Is there any reason for bias on this web site?
  • Has the website been well presented in an appropriately academic style?
  • Has anyone recommended this web site to you?
  • Does the information match what you have learned from other sources?

Wikipedia - good or bad?

Wikipedia logoWikipedia is a free online encyclopedia, written collaboratively by anyone who wishes to contribute. Many people are constantly editing Wikipedia, making thousands of changes per hour. For more information, see About Wikipedia.

Anyone with access to the internet can edit almost every page, and this is both the strength and the weakness of the site: 

  • Because there are so many people willing to freely give their time and expertise to Wikipedia, the content can be an excellent introduction to a topic, well-referenced, and mistakes are often corrected quickly. 
  • However, because edits can be made anonymously, we cannot know whether the author is an expert on the subject or whether they have a particular agenda to push.

Wikipedia is not considered to be a suitably authoritative source of information for academic study.

It is not a good idea to reference Wikipedia in your assignments. If you choose to use Wikipedia as a starting point for your topic, however, the article will introduce you to the key vocabulary for the topic (useful for further searching), you can read the comments in the "Talk" tab to get an idea of how controversial aspects of the topic are, and the references will guide you to other sources of information on the topic (but please also look elsewhere, such as Library SmartSearch!).

For guidance on how to evaluate the quality of Wikipedia articles, see Evaluating Wikipedia article quality.