Research Literature on the Web

The Web offers access to a wide variety of informational materials from governments, associations, organizations, agencies, news outlets, universities, research institutes, consumer groups, commercial entities, and the guy down the street! So how do you know what is research material and what is not?

Look for the clues:

1. Ascertain who publishes the web site/page

A good web site will have a link to a page that gives you information about the site's publisher. It's usually labeled "About Us," "Mission" or similar terminology.

Look for:

  • Web sites published by organizations/institutions reputable in the field
  • Web sites recognized in the field as authoritative
  • Bias. Is the web site publishing materials that promote an unsubstantiated or controversial point of view or are they relaying factual and well-researched information?

If no information is available about the site's publisher, check the url or web address (e.g. http://www.cdc.gov). Domains such as .gov and .edu are the best domains for scholarly and research-based information. Field-related organizational web sites (.org) can also be good sources of information - but beware of bias!


2. Look for information about the author

Most scholarly and research-type materials will list an author and give some information about the author's expertise. If no author is given, use materials only from reputable and reliable sites (see above).

The page or article should have:

  • Information about the author's educational background or expertise on the subject for which they are writing. Look for materials by researchers, scholars or professions not public relations writers or journalists.
  • Footnotes, endnotes or a bibliography that authenticate and substantiate the material. Check to be sure that even the sources cited look credible.