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PHTA 100: Introduction to Physical Therapy: Evaluating Online Sources

This guide will help you locate sources for your final group project.

Tips for Evaluating Websites

We know that most of you will start your research online (probably using Google), so let's lay down some ground rules for how to evaluate webpages and find credible, reliable, and relevant information.

Anyone can put information on the Internet; therefore, it's important to be skeptical when reading any web-based source.  There is no official set of criteria that can tell you a website is credible or incredible, but here are a few questions to ask when you're wondering if you can use a certain web page in your paper/project or not:

Author/Credibility

  • Ask: Who is the Author? Who is the publisher? If you can't tell or if there isn't any clear information, be suspicious!
    • Try to find more information on the author.  If you can click on their name (if it's a link), see if it will take you to the author's biography.  What are their credentials?  How qualified are they?  If you are only provided with their email address, be suspicious!
  • If you can't find an author, look for an "About Us" or "Contact Us" section to find who is behind a source - may be at the bottom of the page.

Purpose

There's nothing wrong with a source having a point of view, but you need to be aware of it so you can investigate the other sides. Example: Information on gun control from the National Rifle Association.

  • Ask: Does the author or publisher of this site have an agenda? Are they selling a product or advocating a position?  If so, it may not be the best source for you to use.
  • Look for: The site's domain name (.gov. .edu, .org), statements of purpose ("About Us" "Philosophy"), and overall tone.

Currency

Think about your topic and how important recent information is to it. For an art history project , it probably isn't very important. For a paper on genetic engineering or the latest treatment of cancer, it is very important.

  • Ask: When was this site last updated? How important is current information to your topic?
  • Look for: Dates (publication date & last update), active links to related content.  This information is often located at the very bottom of a website.

Accuracy

This is the ultimate point. But you may not know enough about a topic to judge. Look for solid evidence, such as research studies and statistics. Is there a bibliography orreference list to other sources the author used? These indicate the information is based on research rather than just opinion.

  • Ask: Does the author have the credentials to be authoritative on this subject? Are references provided? Are these verifiable?
  • Look for: Author's credentials, Credited and dated statistics or charts, Verifiable bibliography or references

Ease of Use

  • Ask: Is the source well-organized?  Can you find what you're looking for?
  • Ask: Does the source offer anything unique?

Wikipedia?!

 

We have all heard that we should never use Wikipedia as a source in an academic paper. It's true: because Wikipedia can be edited by anyone, it's just not reliable. However... 

Wikipedia can be a great place to start your research!  It can provide you with extensive background information on a topic, and can lead you in the direction of other quality - and even scholarly - resources.

Check out this site for further information: 4 Ways to Use Wikipedia