The open web provides us a huge pool of openly accessible information that may be difficult or impossible to find elsewhere. This opportunity is not without risks however since web pages that provide good information and ones that attempt to mislead or misinform are often difficult to tell apart.
When you open a browser like Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, or Chrome you are almost always using it to access a website. However not everything you can see in your browser is considered a website when it comes to doing research for a project. Often we use browsers to access articles and reports that have been reproduced on a website but are not websites themselves. When we cite information for a project like this we must cite the original source and not merely where we accessed it.
As I mentioned before, not all websites are created equal. Often websites have been created with the express or unintended purpose of misleading or misinforming us. These websites look and act very much like those with reliable information but there are few ways we can work to choose only websites that contain information we can trust and use.
Look at the URL
Often we can tell a lot about a website just by looking at the address we use to get to it. Look at the URL of the site and see if you can spot any of the following:
Who is the Author
A reliable website will list who wrote the text on the page. If the author of something you are reading is not listed at the top or bottom of the page try looking for a link that says "About Us" or something similar.
When you have found the author's name, look around the site to see if they list any qualifications, have posted a resume or CV, or in any other way explained who they are and why they are qualified to write on this topic. You are looking for pages written by professionals in the field. Here are some things to look for when reading about the author of a page:
Sometimes websites are written by many people or are listed as being authored by an origination. In these cases try to determine the group's purpose or goal and if they appear to be an authentic and reliable group. Try looking for other information about the organization on other websites or looking for a list of their board of directors.
If you cannot find any information about the page's author or no author is listed then avoid using the page as a source of information or talk to your librarian, instructor, or TA before proceeding.
Intent of the Site
Try to interpret what the purpose of the website might be. Who is the target audience? Is the author trying to inform the audience of to push a particular viewpoint or even product? Many websites that appear reliable are marketing sites in disguise. This can be especially true of sites containing medical information about drug treatments.
The easiest way to cite a webpage is to use the RefGrabIt feature of RefWorks. This is either a bookmark or an add-on/plug-in for Internet Explorer or Firefox that automatically captures some of the needed information from a website. You will STILL need to double-check and edit the imported record.
See the following page from RefWorks about installing and using RefGrabIt