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Tutt Library Research Guides

 

PS Politics of Africa: Web searching

Good, Bad and Ugly

The Good

In the academic world it is considered very important that new research builds upon past research and that the quality of information is assured. There are formal processes to facilitate this, and it's essential you understand these if you are to succeed at university.

  • many sources of authoritative research information now publish on the Internet
    • Peer review has been the quality-control system of academic publishing for hundreds of years.
    • Peer reviewed articles are often collated into scholarly journals
    • Journals available online
  • many NGOs, government sites, academies, universities, think-tanks, etc. - experts creating web sites

The Bad

No standard system of quality control

  • amateur or expert - anyone can put something on the Internet
  • from anywhere in the World
  • saying anything - be it true or false
  • leaving it up indefinitely - even if it goes out of date
  • or change (or delete) information without warning 

There result?

  • Be from a source that is unreliable, lacking in authority or credibility
  • Have content that is invalid, inaccurate, out-of-date
  • Not be what it seems - misleading to untrue

The Ugly

  • hoaxes, scams, frauds, legends, hate sites. etc.

Web evaluation

An expert researcher will make judgements based on the content of the site, and the credibility of the source of the information.

  • Who? - question the source
    • Who is the author? / publisher? / sponsored or funded the site?
    • Are they an authoritative source?
    • What are their credentials, qualifications, background and experience?
    • Has the information been edited or peer reviewed?
    • Are the sources trustworthy?
    • What are their motives for publishing the information?
    • What standpoint do they take: impartial? Biased?
    • Do other Internet sources that you trust link to this site?
  • What? - question the content
    • Are the arguments and conclusions valid (well founded in logic or truth)?
    • Does the author use reliable third-party support (back up any claims citations, referencesresearch datasource material)?
    • Is there a balanced argument or is it one-sided?
    • Do you agree with the information/conclusions?
    • Is the information accurate or can you spot errors (eg. typographical errors or broken links).
    • Is the information current or out of date or superceded by more recent publications? Is there a "last-updated" date?
    • Is the coverage sufficient? Does it include all the aspects of the subject in enough breadth or depth?
    • Is the level of the site appropriate? Does it treat the subject at an introductory level that is too basic?
    • Is it complete - is it available in full or has it been abridged?
    • Is it a commentary or an original text? A primary or secondary source?
    • Is it fact or opinion?
    • Are there advertizements everywhere, that might make you question the motives of the online publication?

  • Where? - question the location 
    • Where is this site located - in which country and on who's computer?
    • How did I get here? Did I reach this site from an authoritative source?
    • Am I in the middle of a site or at the front page? Is this the most relevant part of the site for me to be using?
 

Tips

One of the hardest parts about doing academic research on the Internet is figuring out where to start!
A search engine or subject portal is usually the first thing to try, but which are the most useful for your research need?

Search Engines

It's a common misconception that search engines (such as Google) search everything - they don't.

Tutt Library, Colorado College      Research Help Desk: 719-389-6662, Texting: 719-387-5441, E-mail: tuttref@ColoradoCollege.edu