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Sociology - Brescia

Can I use websites?

First thing’s first: does your professor want you to use websites? If your assignment instructions don’t say, make sure to run it by your instructor. For the most part, judge a website like you would any other resource. In particular, look at the following:

  1. Who wrote it? This can be difficult to find on a website, but look at the “About” page or the “Contact Us” page. Then think about who the author is – does it say? Are they an expert in the field? Do you know? Can you Google them in 30 seconds and find your answer?
  2. Where did they get their information? If no reference list is included, that’s a bad sign. Look for a “reading list” or a page that says “for more information,” anything like that. A good site will give you this information, or citations along the bottom of the page.
  3. How current is the site? Don’t trust the “last updated” date, either: this can be set to automatically update by web programmers, something you don’t have to worry about with other forms of research. Look at their information: is it similar to the other research you’ve been doing? Are their citations up to date? Is every single page the same from one week to the next (especially the home page?) It’s a bad sign if a website doesn’t update their homepage every few days.
  4. Who is the site written for? If a website has been produced for children, obviously the information will be different from professional website. If it’s an organization, consider who would be using the site: this will help point out any biases that may exist.
  5. Is there a sponsor of the website? Is there some company’s brand flashing around, or a link at the bottom of the page that says “sponsor”? Or are there Google advertisements all over the place? For our Health Science friends, beware the sites that are sponsored by drug companies: they often have ulterior motives!

While using websites is both tricky and useful, it’s important to think about them before citing them in your bibliography. The above steps don’t have to be too time-consuming, either. Make it a habit to start looking for this information while you read the site. When in doubt, contact us for help or stop by the Service Desk.

From: The Beryl Ivey Library's Clever Researcher Blog