What are Credible Sources?


Through helping several middle and high school students with research this semester, I have noticed two trends: they aren't always sure how to discern credible sites from non-credible sites and they don't know how to enter effective search terms into Google. Today I'll discuss credible sources and next week I'll tackle using good search terms.


Google Searches and Discerning Credibility


Especially with younger students, I notice a tendency not to think critically about the web sites they choose to click. They will search for their topic and just start clicking on anything. Often, this means they end up on someone's blog or another student's school project that has a public setting so anyone can see it.


When I notice this happening, I point out to them that they need to pay attention to the web site address. Recently when I was helping a student, she clicked on a site that had "prezi" in the URL. Prezi is a software company that helps users create presentations, and the site she clicked on had been created by another student.


I show them that the URL will show up on the Google search page in green and that they should read that first before clicking. Here is an example of a search I did for Andrew Carnegie and industrialization:



This image illustrates the issue perfectly. The first link is a web site someone create on Google Sites. We don't know the author or if the information is credible. The second link is to Bartleby Writing, a site that posts students' essays to give users "thought starters to jump-start" their own paper; not a great start for research. The third link is another Prezi page.


It isn't until the fourth link that we find something credible, the History.com site. Google algorithms are what create the rankings for these pages, but many students assume that the first link is going to be the most credible, so we have to wean them from this idea.


So what are credible sources?


List of Credible Sources and Other Resources


I like this University of Maryland page on determining credibility. It mentions paying attention to the source of the information, the date (if current information is crucial), the author of the text, and the web domain address.  


Here is a brief list of sources I recommend to students:


Google Scholar




Library of Congress




Here are some links with even more sources:


 Common Sense Education Top Picks

 EasyBib's Guide to Finding Sources



I also encourage students to talk with their school librarian to help them understand research (although I know there are less school librarians today, sadly).


More next week!