Finding information today is hardly challenging. Type in some terms into a search engine and boom! The challenge is to find high quality information that meets your specific needs. Be picky! Very, very picky!
Here are some questions you should ask yourself when you are sifting through your search results, looking for gems of information.
Currency - How recent is the information?
How important this criterion is depends on your topic. Your instructor may set limits on the date range you may use for your sources. The harder part for some websites is locating a date. This may be a useful criteria to use to simply ignore the site. If it isn't obvious how recent the information is, dismiss the source.
Authority - Who wrote it or who is responsible for it? Why should I care what they think?
First, determine who bears the most responsibility for the information: the individual author or the organization. Unless the information is scholarly (see below for criteria for that), it is more important to judge the authority of the organization who published the information on their website, rather than the individual(s) who wrote it.
For scholarly information, it will say who wrote it, and usually their academic rank (assistant professor, researcher, etc.) and where they were employed at the time it was written. If the article is from a peer-reviewed journal, then other researchers have critiqued the article and found it to be worthy of publication.
Is it Scholarly?
While there are lots of different categories used to divide up types of information (books, magazines, newspapers, journals, blogs, wikis, etc.), the two that are the most important in college are scholarly and not scholarly. It's easier to describe what scholarly information looks like than non-scholarly.
To identify a source as scholarly, it must have:
Also, scholarly articles are usually quite lengthy – 5 to 30 pages. If it’s only a page long or less, it’s very doubtful that it is scholarly. And they are research-based, offering results from original research the author(s) has conducted, or extensive and detailed analysis of an issue.
You can find scholarly information online, but the scholarly ones probably aren't going to be in the first page of Google results. (Is scholarly information going to be the most popular? Probably not.)
Many times your instructors will say that the scholarly sources must be "peer-reviewed journal articles". The library databases are good about identifying if the source is a peer-reviewed journal, but on Google, you are probably going to have to do some investigation to determine exactly where the article was published, and if the source is peer-reviewed. At a minimum, it is not recommended that you use a source as a journal article unless the version is in PDF format, with the name of the journal, volume/issue, date and page numbers on the PDF.
Comprehensiveness - How complete and balanced is the information?
Some sources will be relevant and useful, but do not give the reader a complete picture of the issue and ramifications, such as a blog post that is slanted to a particular perspective. The more comprehensive sources (and therefore the lengthiest!) will be especially useful at the beginning of your research, when you are still absorbing as much as possible about your issue.
But just because a source is not balanced does not mean it would not be useful. It just means you need to find sources with other viewpoints as well.
Trustworthiness - Is the information sound? How does it compare with other sources?
This is the most important criterion to judge your source. But it is the one that takes the most time, because you have to know enough about your issue to judge the soundness.