Q: Dave, I’m at my wits end! My students keep turning in papers citing online sources despite my admonishments to stay as far away from the Internet as possible. I just don’t believe that a series of tubes is a trustworthy source. Can you offer any assistance?
A: I’m all for using credible sources and you are pure-hearted in your desire to instill this virtue in your students. However. Oh noes! Teh internets r not jus 4 pr0n, lulz! Also haz all teh 1337 stuffs and not jus stuffs wot r teh suxx0r – w00t! ROFLMAO!
(For my remaining literate readers, I’d like to thank you for indulging me in some dusty internet humor)
Here’s the thing: there’s online sources and then there’s sources found online. I can see some of you are confused.
An online source could potentially be anything. The real crazies are easy to spot by even the least research-savvy undergrad (e.g. Timecube); it’s the stuff that seems credible but doesn’t offer sources, or misrepresents information (e.g. some of Wikipedia’s worst offenders) that is dangerous.
But, there are a great many credible sources available online, including some that are print resource that are also published online. That is to say, if you find a journal article online via a library database or a journal’s website, it will have the same words as the print copy of the article (in the journal on the shelf in the library or in your office). Ergo, Soil Science Society of America Journal on the shelf at the call number S590 .S64 A13 = Soil Science Society of America Journal [online]. Additionally, we subscribe to a number of databases that cover resources you used to only be able to find in print like: market analyses (Mintel), encyclopedias (Credo Reference), and standards (ASABE Technical Library).
What about credible sources available online that are not also in print? This used to be a very slim number of works but has been growing as publishers of scholarly journals cease doubling up and only publish online, or those that have only ever published online (examples include the Online Journal of Rural Research and Policy and the Baltic International Yearbook of Cognition, Logic and Communication). We hear from some students that they are reluctant to use some of these resources, whether it be an online journal or the Encyclopedia of Social and Cultural Anthropology in Credo Reference because their professor told them not to use the Internet. While we always refer students back to their professors if they have questions about whether a resource is acceptable for a paper, we have two good rules of thumb for cite-worthiness are 1) Did I find this via a library database? 2) Did a librarian suggest this source? We’ve got advanced degrees in what essentially amounts to reading recommendations – take our word for it, this is some good stuff.