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Internet sites not accurate all the time, professor says

March 5, 1997

By Allison Curlin

Lariat Reporter

Web sites on bibliography pages are not uncommon in today's research papers, especially for students at the university level who have grown up in the computer age. Researchers should be careful that an Internet site is credible before incorporating the information into their paper.

Anyone can put information onto the Internet. Political parties and lobbyists can create a web site including only facts that will support their cause. Someone who has who have not done any research on a topic can write about the subject as if they were an expert.

More students are printing out information from the Internet and asking how to cite World Wide Web pages said Janet Sheets, coordinating instructor for social science and humanities research in Jesse H. Jones Library.

Sheets said she encourages students to look for clues that the site may not be credible and to check the author of the site as carefully as the information on the site.

'Judge what's on the Internet in the same way you judge something in print, except be a little more skeptical,' Sheets said.

Amanda Walker, a Houston freshman, said she has used the Internet often researching for an English paper and has not had any problems with incorrect information in a site.

'A lot of times you can look to see if there is a bibliography on the site or quotes from other sources,' Amanda Walker said. 'I have found some sites that quote books I have already checked out from the library.'

Dr. Linda Walker, associate professor of English, said she encourages her students to use many different sources, including the Internet.

Walker has several guidelines for her students using the Internet.

'I emphasize that the student must use a source that is documented, that has the title of a work or the name of an author, along with that person's position or area of expertise,' Walker said. 'I also encourage the student to find two independent sources for each fact.'

She tells students to 'stay away from unsigned material or somebody's high school paper, and use Web sites for major universities and libraries.'

'I try to emphasize that in the 'Information age,' there is plenty of information,' Walker said. 'It is our responsibility to evaluate the source of that information. Otherwise it is just gossip.'

How to check the validity of web sources?

Frank Molinek, head of serials and government documents at Davidson College, offers the following questions for students before using anything from the Internet in a paper or project.

*What is the site's purpose?

*Will its information be unbiased?

*Who sponsors the site?

*What are the organization's values or goals?

*Can you contact the sponsors should questions arise?

*Is the information well-documented?

*Does it provide citations to sources used in obtaining the information?

*Are individual articles signed or attributed?

*When was it published?

*Is the date of the last revision posted somewhere on the page?

*What are the author's credentials?

*Is the author cited frequently in other sources?

*How does the value of the web-based information you've found compare with other available sources, such as print?

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