female student using a laptop

Characteristics of websites

Websites can be a useful option for finding current and background on a topic. They are a good source for:

  • Learning more about companies and organizations
  • Information from the U.S. government
  • Finding quick facts
  • Catching up with current news
  • Connecting with people and groups through social media
  • And connecting to library resources

However, websites are usually not the best place to begin academic research. There are some potential pitfalls that users should consider when researching online:
 

Most online information does not go through a review process.

Anyone can post information online without having an editor review the information for accuracy and objectivity. Content on websites may be written by an expert on the topic, a journalist, a disgruntled consumer or even a child. The Internet has become even more open with the popularity of blogs, wikis, and social media, but it makes it more difficult to sift for reliable information.
 

A lot of online information does not use citations

A major pitfall when using online resources as a main source of information comes from a simple lack of citations in websites. You might find compelling information, but where does it come from? Try to steer clear of webpages that give no clues as to where their information came from, that way you can reduce the number of subjective/opinionated/biased websites in your research. Tracing citations back to their origins is a good way to sift through Internet sources and find the more reputable, objective resources.
 

A lot of (reliable) online information is not free.

Many websites allow you free access to information, but some commercial ones will charge a fee. This has become more common with websites for news outlets. Furthermore, a great deal of scholarly content can only be accessed through a paid subscription. A large portion of libraries’ budgets are allocated to subscriptions for online journals and other resources.
 

Most online information is not organized.

Some directory services provide links to sites in subject lists, but there are too many websites for any single directory service to organize and index. It still remains a challenge even though the public can help to categorize information by tagging websites.
 

Most online information is not comprehensive.

Rarely will you be able to use a search engine to collect information about your topic from earlier decades and different types of sources.
 

Most online information is not permanent.

Some well-maintained sites are updated with very current information, but others may become quickly dated or disappear altogether without much, if any, notice.

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