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Evaluating Print vs. Internet Sources


Evaluating sources of information is an important step in any research activity. This section provides information on evaluating bibliographic citations, aspects of evaluation, reading evaluation, print vs. online sources, and evaluating Internet sources.

With the advent of the Internet, we are seeing a massive influx of digital texts and sources. Understanding the difference between what you can find online and what you can find in more traditional print sources is key to evaluating your sources.

Some sources such as journal or newspaper articles can be found in both print and digital format. However, much of what is found on the Internet does not have a print equivalent, and hence, has low or no quality standards for publication. Understanding the difference between the types of resources available will help you evaluate what you find.

Publication process

Print Sources: Traditional print sources go through an extensive publication process that includes editing and article review. The process has fact-checkers, multiple reviewers, and editors to ensure quality of publication.

Internet Sources: Anyone with a computer and access to the Internet can publish a website or electronic document. Most online documents do not have editors, fact-checkers, or other types of reviewers.

Authorship and affiliations

Print Sources: Print sources clearly indicate who the author is, what organization(s) he or she is affiliated with, and when his or her work was published.

Internet Sources: Authorship and affiliations are difficult to determine on the Internet. Some websites may have author and sponsorship listed, but many do not.

Sources and quotations

Print Sources: In most traditional publications, external sources of information and direct quotations are clearly marked and identified.

Internet Sources: Sources the author used or referred to in the text may not be clearly indicated in an Internet source.

Bias and special interests

Print Sources: While bias certainly exists in traditional publications, printing is more expensive and difficult to accomplish. Most major publishers are out to make a profit and will either not cater to special interest groups or will clearly indicate when they are catering to special interest groups.

Internet Sources: The purpose of the online text may be misleading. A website that appears to be factual may actually be persuasive and/or deceptive.

Author qualifications

Print Sources: Qualifications of an author are almost always necessary for print sources. Only qualified authors are likely to have their manuscripts accepted for publication.

Internet Sources: Even if the author and purpose of a website can be determined, the qualifications of the author are not always given.

Publication information

Print Sources: Publication information such as date of publication, publisher, author, and editor are always clearly listed in print publications.

Internet Sources: Dates of publication and timeliness of information are questionable on the Internet. Dates listed on websites could be the date posted, date updated, or a date may not be listed at all.