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Monday, 22 June 2015 15:36

Online Content: Establishing Reliability

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In this age of technology, the use of libraries for research purposes has become less frequent while the use of the internet for research has gained more recognition. Since it is,  easy to index and specialize your search on the internet, many people are concerned with the reliability of the content obtained online. Reliability of information is deemed crucial particularly with regard to scholarly and academic research. Hence, after trial and error there are certain steps that have been developed to help you verify the content you find on the internet.

There are certain standards that should be employed to screen the quality of information that you gather using the internet. This evaluation criterion should be applied especially if you are collecting information for an academic purpose. These include reliability, relevance, currency, and the value it adds for the reader. It is imperative for a professional researcher to develop the necessary evaluation skills to identify the trash from quality material. The following checklist would be helpful in this regard.

First you should be able to define the author who wrote on the subject. Check whether he is  identified on the website, and what are his credentials? Also, whether those credentials qualify him to comment on the subject. If it is part of a publication, it’s better if you evaluate the publication as well. That can be done by reviewing its overall professionalism, and the “About” section. A look at the URL can also provide you an idea about the credibility of the source the information is published in, and the nature of author’s affiliation. Some of the standard URLs includes;

  • com for commercially-sponsored sites
  • edu for educational institutes
  • gov for government websites
  • org for nonprofit organizations

Accuracy can be determined by looking for basic spelling and grammatical errors. If you find any such errors, chances that the content has not been reviewed by an editor are high. Also, the key is to look for cited sources. If it is based on primary research, see if the methodology is adequately explained? Or, are the resources cited correctly? If not, you should be critical with regard to the accuracy of the content, or the claims made.

Examining currency of the content is also essential to determine its validity for your task. Outdated information should be avoided, if there are more recent versions of a source. Particularly, in dealing with statistics, it is always best to use the most recent figures. Their currency can be maintained by checking the initial publishing date of the web page, and the date of last update. Also checking if the site is actively maintained and the comments of other visitors can help you determine its currency and impact.

As users are increasingly relying on the internet to gather information, the question of ‘validity’ of information becomes a very important concern. Therefore, is it crucial that you use the above criteria in eliminating most of the risks associated with information obtained from a website.

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