A good library is indispensable. The internet is rapidly becoming equally so for the academic researcher. However, there are a number of factors to look out for when doing a search and using information from the web. Here is some good advice to follow to find authoritative and valid information.
Everyone can go online, create a website or blog and write about any subject they have an interest in. This does not mean they are scholars or even that they are authorities on the topics they write about. Do not assume that because it is written then it must be correct.
Reliable and authoritative information
The most reliable sources are the numerous university sites and the web pages of university lecturers. There are also many reputable institutions, associations, and organizations who publish essays and papers on specific subjects. These are fairly easy to recognize but if you are in doubt you can do a search on an author and check out any work they have published in print form. Read the ‘About’ section of a site and the professional profiles of authors. If these supply insufficient information then leave the site. Another excellent source of information are all the academic journals that are now online. These are not free but universities subscribe to journals and students can access them online with a password. Find out for which journals your university library has subscriptions.
When you do a search you do not want to trawl through too many irrelevant results. This is time consuming and distracting. Think of your keywords and use words that will narrow your search. For example if you are looking for information on viticulture in Italy then use those two words to bring up results that go straight to the heart of your requirements. If you key in ‘grapes’ and ‘Italy’ the search will return a lot of information that does not pertain to agriculture. You may find offers of home wine-making kits but you will probably have to scroll for a while before finding authoritative information on viticulture.
When I started researching online several years ago there was as yet no style convention for referencing. That has changed now and most style manuals should contain a section on how to reference a web page. Within the page or site itself if there are no references in an article then you are in the wrong place. Just as in a print book or journal, author, date, notes, and bibliography must all be included otherwise it is not academically trustworthy. Keep these tips in mind and you will benefit greatly from the research opportunities offered by the web.