Much about selecting reliable sources in internet searches is the same as researching in the library. Pick:
- primary sources
- unbiased sources
- sources with the background and training required to understand and present information
Young students have difficulty with these rules. They work hard just to maneuver through a search engine, the links, the search bar and the address bar. They’re thrilled when they get hits, much less trying to distinguish what’s good from bad. How do they know if it’s a ‘primary source’? How can they determine what’s ‘biased’? Or who has enough training to be trusted?Wikipedia is a great example. It’s edited by the People, not PhDs, encyclopedias or primary sources, yet it usually pops up pretty close to the top of a search list and lots of kids think it’s the last word in reliability. (BTW, nothing wrong with Wikipedia.)
With that in mind, I’ve made the rules simple: Look at the extension. Start with that limitor. Here are the most popular extensions and how I rate them for usefulness in my tech classes:
Published by the government and non-military. As such, it should be unbiased, reliable.
Published by the government and military. Perfect for the topics that fit this category, i.e., wars, economics, etc.
Published by colleges and universities. Historically, focused on research, study, and education
U.S. non-profit organizations and others. They have a bias, but it shouldn’t be motivated by money
These four are the most trustworthy. The next three take subjective interpretation and a cursory investigation into their information:
networks, internet service providers, organizations–traditionally. Pretty much anyone can purchase a .net now
commercial site. Their goal is to sell something to you, so they are unabashedly biased. If you’re careful, you’ll still find good information here
These are foreign sites. Perfect for international and cultural research, but they will retain their nation’s bias and interpretation of events, just as American sites have ours.