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Ask the librarian

Finding the right content online

There is a lot written online about how to find research, but not a lot on how to verify its quality. So have a read through for some suggestions that I find helpful.
It is always good practice to begin your search for research using your library subscribed eresources. This helps ensure what you source is authoritative and reliable.
However, searching online, especially for distance learners is easy to perform from home and was my go-to place for research when I studied as a distance learner. You should remember that web resources need consideration to establish their quality, especially when the resources you find are freely accessible through an Internet search. Try and consider the following when evaluating research.

Evaluating a Website

Here are some quick hints that can help you decide whether the information given in a web page is reliable or not:

  • Look for information about the author, e.g., links that say “Who we are”, “About this site”, etc.
  • See if the author/webmaster provides an e-mail address or other contact information so that he or she can be contacted for enquiries or further information.
  • Look for hints on authority in the URL (Internet address):
    • Top-level domain tells you what type of institution the information comes from
      • .com — a commercial site (may be trying to sell a product)
      • .edu — an educational institution (usually reliable but may not if it is a personal web page of a member of the institution)
      • .gov — a government department or agent
      • .net — network access provider
      • .org — a non-profit organization (may or may not be biased)
    • a “~” in the URL usually indicates it is a personal web page
      e.g., http://personal.univ.edu/~smith/abc.htm
      The quality of information can vary greatly among personal web page 

Question the source

  • Is the source reliable? (Who has written or hosted it?)
  • Are the authors respected? (Is it peer-reviewed? Is it endorsed by a recognised organisation?)
  • Be aware that the author could be biased.

If you need additional help, feel free to contact me directly (email library@oca.ac.uk)
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Posted by author: Helen Barrett
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