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Michigan State University

BMB 101--Finding Information through the MSU Library: Finding Reliable Sources

Finding Reliable Sources of Information

When using any source for information, it is important to be careful about quality and reliability.  First, ask yourself what kind of information source you are looking at.  Is it a:

  1. textbook chapter
  2. advanced scholarly book chapter
  3. journal article
  4. encyclopedia article
  5. web site for a company
  6. health web site for patients
  7. university laboratory web site
  8. student paper

Next, ask these questions to help you determine whether a book, article, or web site is worth using and citing for your papers:

  1. Author:  Who is the author of the site?  This can be a person (credentials are needed) or an agency or professional association (such as the National Institutes of Health).  You'll want the information to be coming from a credible source that you can find and recognize.
  2. Date:  When was the information you want to cite written or last updated?  You want to know how recent the data or information is.  
  3. References:  Does the site reference the source of their information?  Government sites may be citing their own data based on census information, for instance.  Other sites may reference government information.  Information without a source is suspect and should not be quoted. 
  4. Audience:  Who is the audience of the site?  If the audience is the patient or layperson, the information might be good but not scientific enough for biochemistry students. 
  5. Funding:  What is the funding source of the site?  Advertising should be clearly distinguishable from content.  Look for evidence of bias. 
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