We’ve all heard it. “Wikipedia is not a reliable source of information; don’t use it!” But i’m not sure if any of us have actually thought about why it’s not a good site to base a research paper on. 

The Ithaca College Library provides a tutorial on discerning good sites from bad ones. The site lists a criteria for using the web wisely

  • Make sure you are in the right place.
  • When in doubt, doubt.
  • Consider the source.
  • Know what’s happening.
  • Look at details.
  • Distinguish Web pages from pages found on the Web.
There are activities on the site that take topics and five websites associated with them and tell you to use the skills from the tutorial to decide whether the sites are reputable or not.
One of the activities is concerned with Peak Oil. Here’s a breakdown about the five sites associated with this topic and whether or not they’re good:
  1. The first site looks suspicious right off the bat. I immediately get a “blog” vibe from it, which does not necessarily translate to a good website for legitimate information. Also, from the title, it doesn’t seem like this is a one-topic focused website.

    The article, written by Stephen Lendman, gives a lot of information without sourcing anything. It’s possible to hold a lot of knowledge about a subject, but Lendman is never painted as some professional and his occupation isn’t even provided.

     Verdict: bad

  2. Right off the bat you can tell what this site’s about: oil. The site being dedicated solely to the topic at hand is definitely a plus. As I delve into the article I see charts and infographrics with clear linking to their sources. The article provides a lot of information and even links to two previous articles on the website that relate to this content.

    On the site you can explore “staff bios” so I looked up Euan Mearns, the author of the article. His bio says that he has a Bachelors of Science and a Ph. D in geology from The University of Aberdeen. It briefly explains the work he’s done in the oil industry for many years. This has definitely convinced me he’s an authority on the subject.

    Verdict: Good

  3. The third site wouldn’t work and kept leading me to an error site, so I can’t deduce it’s legitimacy since it might not even exist anymore.
  4.  Already I know this is an authoritative site. Who doesn’t know the Huffington Post? It’s a recognizable name and a trusted news source.

    Verdict: Good

  5.  My first reaction to this site was that it probably wasn’t legitimate. With the tagline “News you won’t find on CNN” I could tell this was going to be mostly opinion – and mostly one sided. As I read more thought I realized there was a lot of information – and outside sourcing to up the reliability factor.

    While there’s some bias to the article, and a leaning to one side, it would be a decent resource for someone doing a paper where they needed to present two different sides of the topic,.

    Verdict: Good, but a bit biased and blog-like.

This is a great tutorial to read and exercise to do especially if you’re a student. Sometimes we want to take short cuts and use whatever site looks like it has a lot of information, but by doing that we could be getting wrong information. It’s important to assess the quality of a site, not just the quantity of information it provides. Lots of statistics and no outside sourcing? How do you even know if those are correct? You don’t – which is why this tutorial is immensely beneficial and I definitely recommend any of my blog readers to check it out.
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