How to Search & Determine Credible Sources on the Internet
Practically anyone can create a website. Schools, businesses, government entities, churches, and libraries create websites so people can learn more about what they do. Also, individuals can create personal sites or blogs to write about their families, friends, work, or any other subject. Considering the millions of websites that are out there, it's sometimes difficult to determine whether the information on a website is reliable. Due to a lack of regulation, websites can put out false information without worrying about the consequences. That's why it's so important that every user take the time to evaluate the credibility of a website.
One of the simplest ways to determine the credibility of an online resource is to look at the purpose of the website, which can often be learned from the ending of the site's address. For instance, if a website's address ends in .com, its purpose is most likely to sell a product or service. Therefore, any information on the website is liable to have a bias toward getting a visitor to buy whatever it is that's for sale there. For instance, an article about the importance of finding the proper-size collar for a dog might be informational in nature, but if the article appears on a website that sells pet supplies, there is certainly a bias. In short, the pet supply store wants to sell dog collars to as many people as possible. Alternatively, an address that ends in .edu belongs to an educational institution such as a college or university. A visitor may find an article there written by a professor who is an expert on a particular topic. The professor may include his or her credentials at the end of the article as well as citations. These elements serve to make the website a reliable online resource. As a note, students are also able to contribute to many .edu websites. It's a good idea to look for citations when dealing with a student's writing to ensure credibility. An address that ends in .gov is a government website. Though these are not commercial websites, it's wise to look for the credentials of an article's author as well as references. Sometimes, .org websites are set up with a bias toward a particular group or organization. Be sure to check for an author's credentials when reading any articles found on a .org website. It's always beneficial to read all online articles with a critical eye.
The elements of a website itself can reveal some hints regarding its level of credibility. For example, many website articles include links that visitors can click on for more information. If there are several "dead links," or links that lead to nowhere, it means that they are out of date. The creator of a legitimate website will take the time to keep links up to date so visitors can learn more. The presence of dead links is a good indication that the website is no longer maintained. Another helpful tip is to look at the date of an article as well as the dates attached to studies and resources within an article. If an article cites a study done 10 years ago, it brings into question the reliability of the information. This is especially true if there are more recent studies available on the subject. The presence of many misspellings on a website is also a clue that it's not a credible resource. Someone who creates a legitimate website designed to provide people with factual information takes care with both spelling and grammar in order to appear more professional.
Finally, it's a smart idea to confirm any fact found on a website. A person can do this by performing additional online research and/or checking some print publications at the library. If a person finds the same information on several other legitimate websites as well as in a print publication, it increases the odds that the information is accurate.
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