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PHM 211--Researching topics in pharmacology and toxicology: Evaluating Websites

Identifying Reliable Web Sites

Sometimes scientific research isn't published in books or scholarly journals--it can also be published on government or NGO websites. Research published on these sites is called gray literature, and it can be an important supplement to the information you get from books and electronic texts. 

But not all information you find on the web is either reliable or at the level of scholarly research. Ask these questions to help you determine whether a web site is worth using for your paper:

  1. Author:  Who is the author of the site?  This can be a person (credentials are needed) or an agency (such as the National Institutes of Health).  You'll want the information to be coming from a credible source .
  2. Date:  When was the information you want to cite written or last updated?  You want this to be fairly recent. 
  3. References:  Does the site reference the scientific literature or other reliable sources?  Information presented without citation of the literature is not scholarly.  You want to cite as many scholarly sources as possible and minimize the information you get from non-scholarly sources.
  4. Audience:  Who is the audience of the site?  If the audience is the patient or layperson, the information might be good but not in-depth enough for a senior biology student's paper. 
  5. Funding:  What is the funding source of the site?  Advertising should be clearly distinguishable from content.  Look for evidence of bias. 

You can find some examples of websites that are reliable sources of research on the Information on Specific Substances/Toxins page of this guide. 

Finally, if you have any doubts about the credibility of a source and the accuracy of the contents, check other reliable sources to confirm the claims. ​

Note: If you do a Google search about your topic and some results come back from Google Books, you'll find that you aren't able to read all of the pages of the book online.  Check the title of the book and look it up in our Library Catalog to see if we own it. 

Health Science Librarian

Chana Kraus-Friedberg's picture
Chana Kraus-Friedberg
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East Lansing, MI 48824
Michigan State University