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Biosciences: Evaluating information

Evaluating sources of information

Web symbol

There are times during your research when you need to look further afield than the Library SmartSearch. The obvious place to look for information is the Internet, so this page offers some handy hints and advice on using the Web to find the information that you need.

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.

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

Person using computer

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

  • Who is the author?  Do they have qualifications/a reputation in the relevant area?
  • Is the website 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 website to you?
  • Does the information match what you have learned from other sources?

Watch this short video:

Getting the most out of Google

Google LogoDo you sometimes struggle to find what you need on Google?

There are a number of ways you can explain more clearly to Google exactly what you're looking for.  Use Google Advanced Search or learn some of the more useful operators:

Can't find what you looking for?  Try searching in other places:

Wikipedia - good or bad?

Wikipedia logoWikipedia is a free online encyclopedia, written collaboratively by anyone who wishes to contribute. 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.

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 and the references (bottom of the page) will guide you to other sources of information on the topic. Please, also look elsewhere, such as Library SmartSearch.

Social Media

Social media icons - twitter, blogger, facebook, YouTube

Social media can include any of the following:

  • Blogs
  • Discussion forums
  • Microblogs (i.e. Twitter)
  • News aggregators (i.e. Digg)
  • Photo sharing
  • Podcasts
  • RSS
  • Social networks
  • Video sharing
  • Wikis

All of these types of social media have their own merits and drawbacks when searching for information. As the field is still growing, there is an abundance of ways to use these sites.

Some sites you could use in your studies or research include:

Follow these links for information on how to use social media in your studies or research: