Information from unreliable sources is not always true, up-to-date, or accurate. Using unreliable sources weaken the credibility of the writer, dilute the writer’s argument, and detract from the overall strength of the text.
While the Internet provides a plethora of information on almost any topic imaginable, not all of its content can be trusted. Students should be cautiously selective while doing research and avoid sources that may contain unreliable information:
- Popular and collective websites (ask.com, about.com, WebMD.com, etc.):
Websites such as these provide articles and information that has been collected from other sources that may not be reliable. While the sponsors of these sites usually employ writers who research the topics, citations for the sources of the data are not always provided.
Wikipedia is an online open-source encyclopedia, which means that it can be edited by anyone. While the information on the site is audited by a Wikipedia editor, the information found there may or may not be correct or current.
- Source material based solely on opinion:
While material that conveys opinions and beliefs may have some validity, reliable sources that back up the opinion or belief with facts and trustworthy information should also be sought. If the opinion piece does not include data from reliable sources, a writer may choose not to include it as a source.
Note: Some sources, such as Wikipedia, provide a works cited list or reference list. Some of the cited works may be reliable. To confirm the validity of a knowledge claim, check the original source and interpret the information yourself.
Where are credible, reliable sources found?
- Academic databases: These databases, such as Academic Search Premier and JSTOR, include searchable collections of scholarly works, academic journals, online encyclopedias, and helpful bibliographies and can usually be accessed through a college library website.
- Academic peer-reviewed journals: Journal articles that have been peer-reviewed are generally considered reliable because they have been examined by experts in the field for accuracy and quality.
- Google scholar: This Internet search engine helps the user to locate scholarly literature in the form of articles and books, professional societies’ websites, online academic websites, and more.
- Library reference or research desk: Library staff can provide useful services, such as assistance with the use of library research tools, guidance with identifying credible and non-credible sources, and selection of reliable sources.