How to judge an online source for credibility and accuracy

How do you evaluate sources, especially online sources, for credibility, lack of bias and good information?

In my last post, I talked about the importance of finding good online sources if you need them to support your blog topic, and I gave some tips on how to find good sources.

But how do you know if a source is “good” or not? How can you judge an online source – or any source, for that matter – for its credibility and accuracy?

Judging-online-sources

There’s nothing wrong with searching for sources in your favorite search engine. But keep in mind that the Internet has two sides. Look at sources with a skeptical eye.

The most popular search engine is so widely used that it has become a verb. We say, “I’ll google that and find the answer.” There’s nothing wrong with googling a search term, and I do it all the time. But you need to keep in mind that the Internet has two sides. The positive side is that it’s fast, easily accessible and has an abundance of data. The negative side is that it’s fast, easily accessible and has an abundance of data.

If you’re wondering how the same thing can be both positive and negative, let me explain. The Internet has a low barrier to entry. That is, you can set up a blog for free, and with $10, you can buy your own domain name. With any medium that has a low barrier to entry, you’ll get a wide range of information. Along with the many credible websites and databases, there are just as many opinionated ranters and fake sites out there.

That’s why it pays off to evaluate online sources critically. Google and other search engines put a lot at your fingertips, but you shouldn’t blindly trust what comes up. Use a skeptical eye. When doing research, it’s important to exercise good judgment and double-check what you find. Check your sources for accuracy – don’t just believe they’re correct.

Not all information is good information, especially when you find it on the Internet. It can be inaccurate or incomplete, outdated, biased, or lacking in context.

When you find a website that looks like it might be a good source, how can you assess its credibility? Here are six criteria you can use:

  1. Is the site accountable to its visitors? Look at the author, whether it’s a person or group. Does the site say who is responsible for the content?
  2. How accurate are facts on the site? Does the information come from this source, or does the author cite their sources? Can you verify it with another source?
  3. Is the information presented objectively? What is the sponsor’s agenda? Is it full of opinions? Do they accept feedback and correct mistakes?
  4. How current is the information? Is it up to date, or full of old information and broken links?
  5. How usable and user-friendly is the site?
  6. Is the presentation of information diversity-sensitive, or is it biased?

If any of these criteria make you uncomfortable about using a website as a source, move on. If you have the least question about a source’s bias or accuracy, don’t use it. Keep looking for a more balanced view. The Google will find many other sites that pass muster on these criteria.

The Internet has made searching for information easier than ever, but it has also made plagiarism easier than ever. As a journalist and former teacher, I have zero tolerance for plagiarism. Do your own work, or cite others’ work if you use it. Stay vigilant about not plagiarizing online content so you can stay credible. You have to attribute information to its source. Tell where it came from, and use quotation marks around information you quote directly. If you’re going to use any audio or video from the source on your website, always ask permission.

Here are some ways you can guard against plagiarism:

  1. Directly quote and cite the source, giving a link when possible.
  2. Credit the source in a paraphrase when it uses most of their words.
  3. Reword the phrase so it’s yours.
  4. When in doubt, cite the source. Better to cite too much than not enough and get in trouble.

Finding good sources is important because they need to deliver on the promise you make in your headline and in the opening paragraphs of your post. The sources need to be relevant to your topic. Remember, you and your reputation are only as good as the sources you use, so you want to make sure you’re evaluating them as best you can.

Readers, how do you judge online sources? What types of sources do you find to be the most credible? Least credible? Let us know in the comments!

Comments

How to judge an online source for credibility and accuracy — 12 Comments

  1. Very good advice. Research and more research is the way forward. It’s great that information is readily available on line but it’s always good to verify it too.

  2. For me, how a site looks is one way to measure its value as a source. Also, I feel that opinion is quite easy to detect. Objectivity is a difficult pedestal to remain standing upon but the less opinion words, the better. That’s generally how I measure up a source.

  3. I like adding fun facts to my travelogue and am sensitive to where I find this research. If I find a date doesn’t match for an event on two separate websites, then I won’t include it. I want people to be able to trust me as a resource.

  4. I do quite a bit of research most in recipe development and wines. You’re spot on about unreliable sources online. It pays to fully check out their sources, if you can, and then you can determine the credibility of the information provided. :-)

  5. Good points. I love how easily I can access information on the Internet, but then spend quite a bit of time validating, by checking site’s credentials and confirming with other sources. Even then, I’ve found myths perpetuated on legitimate sites.

  6. Awhile back I read a post from an exasperated author who noted that Googling was not the same as research. Her point wasn’t that you shouldn’t use Google to learn things, but like you, she thought that you needed to verify your sources. When you’re busy it’s easy to to want quick solutions, but it’s always better to take your time. As Lenie noted, sometimes what you find is enough to make you change your mind about the source.

  7. I’m with you. If I feel uneasy about a source or it doesn’t ring true for whatever reason I move on to another. Hopefully no-one willingly wants to perpetuate mis-information.

  8. I do a lot of research when I’m in the market for a new product and I check out many sites. You are absolutely right about the unreliable sites – before using them I look for site reviews and its amazing how often I don’t use a site because of the negative reviews. this is a great article, thanks.
    Lenie

  9. It is a good post. It is very important to find the credibility of the online information. Nice tips to find the truth too.

  10. Great points Jennifer. If I have a-n-y doubt about quoting someone, I usually email them to ask. But most of the time I’m either paraphrasing or quoting maybe a sentence – and referencing the source.

    Thanks!

  11. Very timely and well put Jennifer. I place a lot of emphasis on figuring out the source’s agenda and make reference to that if I choose to quote them on something controversial. In many cases it is possible to trace back to their original source and either identify bias or re-write to exclude it