On your course, you will be expected to use a wide variety of information sources – books, journals and of course, the internet. One way of finding information on the internet is to use a search engine such as Google. However, the internet is vast and search engines will return thousands of results, many of which may be irrelevant or incorrect. The internet is not subject to any kind of quality control. Anyone with access to the internet can publish content online, so you need to use it as a source of information with caution. It is an ideal place to practice critical thinking skills in order to judge the authenticity of any content you find there.
It is important to consider the following:
- Authority: who is the author / responsible for the website? What are their credentials? Who do they work for? Is the site sponsored by an organisation? Check the URL to see if it is a government (.gov) or academic (.ac) site.
- Content: is there evidence that the content has gone through any form of quality control? Does it include any references? Is it well-written? What is the purpose of the site? Is it selling a product? Is it impartial or biased?
- Currency: when was the information on the page originally written? When was it last updated?
Practice asking these three questions every time you visit a website. It is a useful example of learning to become a digitally literate student and you may be surprised at how many sites can fail this simple test of academic credibility.