You need to be careful when using sources that you properly acknowledge them, but you need equally to be aware that some sources are more "resourceful" than others. To make sure your sources serve you well, you should be skeptical about your sources and try to determine how reliable they are.
Source Evaluation ChecklistAnswer the following questions from the Harbrace Handbook to help determine how reliable and authoritative your sources are.
- What are the author's credentials?
- Do others speak of the writer as an authority?
- Does the work contain evidence indicating that the author is well informed?
- Is the work recent enough to provide up-to-date information?
- Is the work published by a reputable company?
- Does the work provide documentation to support important points?
- Does the work include a bibliography that could help you to identify other sources? (Hodges et al. 405)
Evaluating Internet SourcesMore and more traditional print resources are becoming available on the Internet, but because of the ease by which information is published on the Internet, you need especially to be aware of the reliability of information you find there. Oftentimes you can find useful information regarding the source of an Internet document in the domain name of the website. That is the first word (or set of words) following the "http://" in the website's location, or address:
Website address Source Company or Organization http://www.discover.com/ Discover Magazine http://www.loc.gov/ Library of Congress (LOC) http://cnn.com/index.html CNN (Cable News Network) http://www.nytimes.com/yr/mo/day/national The New York Times http://www.greenpeace.org/ Greenpeace International http://www.rnc.org/ Republican National Committee http://www.mla.org/ Modern Language Association (MLA) http://www.ssc.nasa.gov/ NASA's Stennis Space Center (SSC)
You should also be familiar with the current domain-name suffixes, or extensions, used to characterize the various types of websites. Sometimes the extension is very important in determining the legitimacy and reliability of a website. For instance, Whitehouse.com (a private company) is markedly different from whitehouse.gov (a government website).
The most common domain-name extensions are as follows:
*.com The most commonly used extension, this is used by a wide variety of web sites but in general, it is short for "company." Example: http://www.microsoft.com *.edu The extension for educational institutions, typically for colleges and universities. (K-12 schools often do not use this extension.) Example: http://www.harvard.edu *.gov Indicates a government web site. Example: http://www.whitehouse.gov *.mil Indicates a military web site. Example: http://www.army.mil/ *.net Typically indicates a network or ISP (Internet Service Provider). Example: http://www.teclink.net/ *.org In general, this extension represents an organization, most often nonprofit organizations. Example: http://www.aclu.org Other
In addition to these main designations, each country has a two-letter code designation; a Canadian site ends in *.ca, for example, while a French site ends in *.fr, etc. The *.us extension is also now being used, often in combination with a two-letter state code, for state and municipal web sites. Hence, Oxford's site is http://www.ci.oxford.ms.us, and Mississippi state government web pages can be found at http://www.state.ms.us/
Evaluating individual websitesThe domain name and extension are helpful in determining the source of some Internet documents, but alone they may not be enough in determining the reliability or accuracy of the information. You may expect a source at a college or university (extension *.edu) to be reliable, for example, but most colleges and universities allow their faculty and students access to post their own websites on the campus system, so what appears to be presented by a college or university may in fact be part of an individual's website, and therefore more apt to be suspect.
Just as print sources may be biased, inaccurate, or unreliable, so too may Internet documents. In fact, you should be especially wary of documents you find on the Internet because of the ease with which documents can be published and the lack in most cases of any authoritative "publisher" to prevent the publication of biased, misleading, or erroneous information.