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SPARK: Internet Sources

A resource for students wanting to improve their academic and research skills.

Internet Sources

Material freely available on the web (public web) varies considerably in form (websites, blogs, podcasts, etc.), function, and reliability.  

The decision to use such public internet sources in your paper depends on the nature of the assignment. Check with your professor if you are unsure whether you should use internet sources in your paper.

Regardless of the type of internet source you consult, it is important to evaluate your sources to ensure that they are authoritative resources to use for your assignment (see PARCA Test under Resources for Books, Journals, & More).

There is a vast array of websites available on the public web. There is some authoritative information available on company and organizational websites, such as reports and government documents. However, most scholarly information is not accessible for free on the web, and you will need to make use of the databases for which the library has paid subscription fees.

Wikipedia and Encyclopedias

If you are unfamiliar with a topic and need some basic information to get started, one strategy is to consult an encyclopedia. Short articles in encyclopedias can provide context as well as basic facts and definitions of terms. Encyclopedia articles can also help further refine your topic.

Encyclopedias such as Encyclopedia Britannica are written and edited by authors who are known as experts in their field. In contrast, anyone may contribute to Wikipedia and edit the entries. Wikipedia articles are particularly useful for popular culture topics and finding recent developments on a current topic. However, think critically about the information you find there and be sure to cross-check that information with other sources.

Academic libraries also provide access to highly specialized encyclopedias, such as Oxford Reference Online, with entries written by scholars in their specialized fields. You can find recommendations for these in many of the subject-specific research guides maintained by the library.

Whether you are using Wikipedia, Britannica, or a more specialized encyclopedia, it is best to use these sources primarily as jumping-off points for more in-depth research rather than as the main source for a paper.  

Blogs and Podcasts

Blogs began as personal journals, but have evolved into forums for subject matter experts, organizations, consumer feedback as well as advertising campaigns. One of their distinguishing features is the ability for readers to contribute comments.

Personal blogs are often self-published. Therefore, it is important to review the About section of a blog to investigate the author’s credentials.

Blogs can be particularly useful for current issues, trends and opinions.

Podcasts began as online simulations of radio broadcasts and, like blogs, have evolved. They range from interviews, to lectures, to extended opinion pieces and may consist of audio or video files. They can be downloaded or streamed via a number of different sources.

Podcasts can be useful for an assignment when they are produced or authored by reliable sources such as universities or reputable media organizations (e.g., TVO, CBC, PBS).

Remember, anyone can publish a blog or a podcast, so it is essential that you think critically about authority and potential bias when you are using blogs and podcasts (see PARCA Test in Resources for Books, Journals, & More).

Moving Images

Moving Images include videos, films, and animation. Documentaries often include interviews with experts, and can be a good source of background information, first-person accounts, and critical perspectives on a topic. The library provides access to a range of films and educational videos in both DVD and streaming video formats.

Video-sharing websites such as YouTube provide a wide variety of moving images. While some materials available on such websites present well-supported ideas and information, many are produced without regard to accuracy and thoroughness of content.