Private Orange County Tutor Tips: Online Research: What’s Legit?

These days the vast majority of High School research is done online. Although this makes life much more convenient and cuts down the amount of time students spend on study, it does present a new set of problems. Students who used tangible sources of information in past generations, such as books and texts, we’re able to concretely determine which sources were 100% legitimate, with an expert author and reliable supports, and which sources were written by somebody who had no business putting a text in a library. However, today’s students will have a harder time determining which sources are good to site or use for a research project and which are unsupported.


1. A balanced source recognizes a counter argument

A truly balanced force will recognize a counter argument. This means that although they lean towards option A, they recognize option B (or idea B) as a valid point. On the other hand, authors who completely tear down the opposing opinions without giving any reason or support are writing their own terrible thesis statement. If a student comes across one of these sources, they are probably viewing a personal opinion blog or website. Although there’s nothing wrong with personal opinions, without a balanced viewpoint or supporting details, they should never be viewed as fact or cited for research (READ: “Tips from an Irvine Academic Tutor: 5 Homework Help Online Tools”).

2. The title means a lot

In most cases the title is an indication of the legitimacy of a particular source. For instance, Science News Weekly sounds a lot more credible than Joe’s Super Awesome Science Blog.  Although Joe’s Super Awesome Science Blog can probably be discounted straight away, it doesn’t mean that Science News Weekly is automatically credible. However, it does help students eliminate potential bogus sites right off the bat.

3. A legitimate source always cites their sources

It’s also important to remember that any real source will also cite their sources. Science and psychology journals will have a long list of sources used as well as a list of studies that were referred to within the article. News magazines will provide information such as dates, names, places, and specific details timely to the issue. If a student is reading about a science experiment with no mention of sources or a news article that is highly generalized and does not refer to a specific event, they’re probably looking at a bogus source or a personal opinion blog.

4. Many respectable sources have been around awhile

Students are also encouraged to look at resources that have been around for awhile. Research material from philosophy magazines to art journals to IT articles are generally more credible if they were around prior to the advent of online sources. This isn’t to say that newer publications aren’t entirely legitimate, but if a source has been around for 25 years, it has probably gained respect and a reputation within the academic community (READ: “4 Apps to Help with Concentration”).

5. Look at the author’s bio for clues

If a student thinks they have found a good source, they can further determine its credibility by looking at the author’s bio. If the author is talking about a new cancer treatment and they hold an MD from Yale and have published 50 essays regarding cancer research in respected medical journals, the student has probably found a decent source.  Alternatively, if the author is discussing the same topic but has no work experience or degree in this field, it’s probably another personal opinion article.

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