When it comes to identifying quality sources for research papers and projects, we often teach incoming freshmen to avoid .com Web sites and, instead, to stick only to .org, .edu, and .gov sites. The reason why we often teach students to avoid .coms is because there's a lot of junk out there among those types of sites. No doubt about it. Anyone can buy a .com and post whatever content they'd like to on it, but the other domain extensions just named, especially .edu and .gov, come with some big restrictions. You have to be an accredited, degree-awarding institution (.edu), or a government entity (.gov), respectively.
But the truth is that .com sites can potentially be rich sources of factual, unbiased, well-rounded, and well-written information, commentary, and analysis, as well. If you can adequately defend your use of .com sources for your research papers and projects, you can certainly use them. Among the endless sea of .coms out there on the Internet are reputable Web sites like History.com, Biography.com, WebMD.com, ScientificAmerican.com, and countless newspapers and magazines, among others.
Here are some great tips and strategies to help you in deciding if a .com Web site is a trustworthy source that can be included in your research paper or project. Keep in mind that while this post is talking about identifying and selecting good .com sources, the following pointers are certainly useful for evaluating any kind of source.
Look for the author's credentials - If an author or multiple authors of the content (the article, blog post, video, study, etc.) you're looking at are listed, do you see a small section describing their expertise? It may come in the form of a paragraph or several solid sentences, and may describe the author's level of education, number of years working in his or her industry or field, and/or any other information offering you insight as to why the author (or group of authors) should be considered an authority on the subject. This section may even take the form of an entirely standalone, separate page found elsewhere on the Web site.
Google the author(s) of the content to see if any similar articles (or videos, blog posts, etc.) are coming up that they may have written or created on the same overall topic. Using your best judgment, then, does it seem like these content creators and writers know what they're talking about?
Individual author or authors not listed? This can certainly happen, and it is not necessarily a case for alarm. The author may be listed instead as "Staff" or something similar, or not listed at all. In this instance, browse around elsewhere on the Web site. Is there an "About us" or an "About our publication" kind of a page that may give you some clues on the site's credibility? How do the other articles and content on the site look like to you? Trustworthy?
The use of statistics, the inclusion of opposing viewpoints, links to other Web sites and studies
- Does your potential source list any stats or figures? Does it link to
any other reliable-looking Web sites, articles, posts, videos, studies,
etc. in order to build its argument or case? While your potential
source may come from a specific viewpoint or take a specific position on
a topic, does it at least acknowledge opposing viewpoints? Does it let
you know where the other side(s) is generally coming from?
Opinion pieces, editorials - can you use them? Heck, yes! But again, look for and take into consideration the credentials of the author or authors. Put more simply, consider the source. That's the key caveat here. Everyone has an opinion on everything. But is the opinion you're looking at here an educated one? In other words, is the author building a sound, reasonable argument? Is there a strong case being made that's worth serious consideration? If a former chair of the Federal Reserve is offering his or her opinion on where s/he thinks the U.S. economy is heading in the next few years, and it's published on WSJ.com (the Web site of The Wall Street Journal newspaper), you can trust that it's going to be an authoritative claim. It's going to be rooted in the high-level education and uniquely high-level work experience of the author in the fields of economics and government service. If the piece is helping you build your own case in your research paper or project, then run with it.
Hopefully, you've found these pointers helpful as you navigate the endless sea of Web sites out there on the Internet in your search for quality sources for your papers and projects. Happy researching and writing!