Have you ever gotten those emails that say if you forward it on to 100 other people Bill Gates will give you money? How about a request from the Crowned Prince of Nigeria saying that he has money to send to the States, needs help doing it and if you give him all your bank account information he will send it to your bank account and split it with you? Well, if you haven’t, I’m sure someone you know has. There is a connection to those type of emails and some seemingly credible information on the web.

Just because someone says something doesn’t make it true. And as a student you are responsible for checking your sources to make sure they are credible (as should we all be). Here are a couple of questions you can ask yourself when assessing the credibility of sources for online school students.

Does the author(s) have credibility? As you begin to look up articles in a certain area you will most likely start to see some names more than others. You can visit a university’s website to get an idea of the kind of work an author has done in the past. If they have a bunch of articles on the given topic for many years running, then chances are they are credible. You can also do a search for the author’s name and see what kind of search results come up for him, her or them. Someone may have been published, but there are also those that publish controversial things. That doesn’t mean that it’s wrong, but you should be aware of this and hear any arguments for and against. You won’t get this from just looking at the article. In general, don’t trust a source that doesn’t give a name of the author, or one that you can find no real information about his or her.

Is the article objective? Some articles have the intent to persuade while others are reporting findings. While no research can be done without bias, the very act of framing your hypothesis demands that you exhibit some discernment and bias, does the article appear to have a low level of bias and do the authors seem to be open to results that would prove them wrong?

Is the article current? I had one professor that I remember specifically said we could not use any article that was over 5 years old. This may change depending on the purpose of your assignment, your field of study and your professor, but if the authors have done their job, they will have taken into account other research that preceded them so they can build on it rather than repeat it.

Does the article sufficiently dive into the topic? Some articles are reviews of many areas and do not dive deep enough into any one topic. If this is the case, your report or paper will be as shallow as the research you’re pulling from.

How accurate is the material? If you’re new to research this may be more difficult You don’t need to check the validity of their statistical analysis, but try a couple simple checks to determine the general accuracy. Look up a couple of the footnotes or articles cited in the bibliography. Are they real? Do they say what the author(s) mean them to say?

So, be judicious when searching for sources to use in papers and assignments. It takes some practice, but you can do it. Have these and other questions ready and ask them specifically about the first 100 sources you are considering. This will give you a good idea about how credibility can vary from source to source. Good luck!

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