A Quick Guide in Searching for and Evaluating Reliable References Online


In order to support your arguments, you have to use the right sources and references. Use of reliable and credible sources is a good way to demonstrate how much you have read and that you understood what you are writing about. It strengthens your claims and ensures the integrity of your report.

The Internet has provided an extremely wide variety of materials that we can use as references. The only question that remains is the accuracy and reliability of the information posted. Unlike printed sources like books, journals, magazines, newspapers, etc., the information being shared on the internet has not been properly screened. You, as a researcher,  must be able to identify which of the available sources you can use.

Here are a few ways to ensure reliability of your online reference:

Maintain a Skeptical Attitude

With a lot of ISPs, more and more people are becoming connected to the internet. With a good service provider such as internetchoice.org, you can access several websites and search for information. However, a lot of people running their websites spreads false information, either aware or unaware, in the form of half-truths, distortions, fallacies, exaggerations, lies, false stories, false claims, urban legends, etc.

Maintaining a skeptical attitude towards all claims simply means that you do not easily believe or reject what you see, read or hear. It is practising caution before accepting or rejecting a specific information. You have to be critical enough and make a way to confirm the data that is presented.

Refrain from Performing Confirmatory Bias

Confirmatory bias is the tendency to search and interpret information to confirm your assumptions leading to bias and prejudice. If you want to have fair and objective information, you have to be fair and objective when doing research. Avoid disregarding information that opposes your claims and accepting those that you find agreeable.

Consider How You Found the Page

Carefully think about how you are able to find the page. Looking for sources online is a lot different than looking in a library. Some indicators of reliability are as follows:

  • Was the page from a reputable website?
  • Was the page recommended by another reliable source?
  • Was the page endorsed by an educator?

Take into Account the Features of the Page

Here are some things you should look out for:

  • Domain of the website- The most common domains are .org, .com, .net, .edu, .gov, .il.us, .uk. The domains are a clear indicator of the website’s purpose and validity.
  • Author of the page- Make sure that the author’s name is visible and is affiliated with well-known and credible organizations and institutions. You have to check the credentials presented by the author as well. Note the contact information provided, so you can send him/her an e-mail if you have any question.
  • Date it’s updated- One indicator of reliability and validity of a web page is the timeliness of the information cited. Check if the information is current.


You do not need to be an expert to know if the online sources are reliable enough for you to use. Since unreliable materials will not add substance to your writing, it’s best that you screen your resources carefully.