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Why use the Internet?
Pros of the internet
- There is a lot of information freely available.
- Publication can be immediate, so the information is potentially very current.
- Virtually anyone can publish online; you can access opinions and information that would not otherwise have an outlet or be possible to find.
- It allows you to access information from anywhere.
- An increasing number of quality resources are publishing under Creative Commons licences. The information can be easily viewed and used (within the terms of the licence).
Figure 1. Google Doodle (Source: Flickr/stuckincustoms, n.d.)
Cons of the internet
- The breadth of information available can be overwhelming; it can be difficult to find what you need.
- Because virtually anyone can publish information on the internet, you need to be extra cautious and assess the information you find for accuracy and validity.
- It can be difficult to determine if the information you find is original or plagiarised from elsewhere.
Wikipedia is often the first place we turn to for information and, because of the way Google ranks its search results, Wikipedia results often appear at the top of the list.
However, because Wikipedia is edited by volunteers, it is not a reliable, academic source. You can use Wikipedia to expand your personal knowledge
of a subject, but you should also seek knowledge from more scholarly sources,
and should never use information from Wikipedia in your assignments.
Check out Shane Fitzgerald's experiment with spreading misinformation on Wikipedia.
Figure 1. Wikipedia T-Shirt (Source: Flickr/mikeedesign)
Evaluating information found online
Because anybody can publish on the internet, it is especially important to think critically about the information you find online. Here are some tips to help you determine whether you're accessing reliable information.
- Who is the author?
What can you find out about them/their credentials/academic affiliations. Are they an expert in the subject?
- Check the date.
When was the information written or published? Is it up to date? This is especially important in some fields (e.g., nursing and IT).
- Examine the style.
Is the information written in academic style? Does the author provide references? Double and triple check contentious facts. Check the information you find against other sources. This is called triangulation.
- Think about the purpose.
Why does the website exist? What is its purpose? Is it intended to educate, entertain, or sell a product?
- Look at the webpage address (.co, .com, .org, .edu, .govt, etc).
.co and .com addresses usually belong to businesses, who may present information in a particular way to try to sell you a product.
See also: The CRAAP Test for evaluating information.
Searching and evaluating internet sources