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Religion & Philosophy: Sources

Searching the World Wide Web

Although evaluating the information available through the World Wide Web is a necessary part of research, the amount of information that you can obtain even through a simple search on Google makes such a task difficulty to accomplish.  This problem is not due just to the rapid increase in the number of websites, but also to their competition for your attention.  Your challenge will be to locate accurate and reliable sources that are available online while avoiding those whose information is inaccurate, dubious or outdated. You should always investigate the website's author to establish the writer's education, title and credentials, and the place of employment. Also look on the website for the organization, company, educational institution or government agency that is responsible for its contents, especially if the article is unsigned and no author can be determined.

Search engines, such as Google, use a specialized algorithm to locate appropriate matches on the World Wide Web, but this search relies on the index terms provided by those websites.  Because many companies (web address ends in .com) generate advertising revenue by the number of times their site is visited, they have a vested interest in being one of the first sites found during a search.  For this reason you should not assume that the top results listed in a search are necessarily the best sources of information.

Since no hard and fast rule can be given about which sites are the most reliable, you will often have the most success with information provided by educational institutions, especially colleges and universities (web address ends in .edu) and the agencies of the federal government (web address ends in .gov). Non-commercial organizations (web address ends in .org) may offer excellent information, but their primary purpose is advocacy, and you need to consider carefully what bias or viewpoint they might bring to the information they provide.  Since any website is subject to unannounced changes or deletion, you should make a note of its web address, also know as its "URL" (Uniform Resource Locater), and keep a printed copy of all the webpages you decide to cite in your research paper.

You should begin your online search first by using the databases available through the Mary Blount Library.  These databases contain articles that have been published in a variety of periodicals: popular magazines, trade and professional magazines, and academic journals.  Although the depth of information in any article depends in large part on the intended audience for that periodical, first-rate writing and careful research can be found in many different types of publications. In particular, articles published in academic journals are subject to a process called "peer review," in which independent reviewers read and critique their content before acceptance for publication, usually without knowledge of the author's identity.  You are encouraged to  work with a librarian to help you locate the most appropriate sources for your projects.

 

Connect with a Librarian or Tutorial

Averett Librarians will help you:

  • find reliable information for assignments
  • develop database search strategies
  • evaluate and cite your sources

During fall and spring semesters a librarian is available until 9 P.M., Monday - Thursday, 4:30 P.M. Fridays, and 7 P.M. on Sundays.

Email aclib@averett.edu anytime. Visit during library hours, or call 434-791-5692 or 800-543-9440. 

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