Ah, the Internet!
The Internet is easy to use, it is regularly updated, and there’s a ton of information on it on just about everything (though some pages are, let’s say, more helpful than others). If you’re doing research, it makes good sense to use the Internet as a resource and to cite webpages in your work. But how do you do that?
Let’s talk about both of those things.
First, using the Internet as a reference tool.
While the ease of use, scope of resources, and up-to-date nature of the information available online are collectively invaluable, there are also some downsides to using the web for research. The biggest thing to be careful about is low quality, unsubstantiated material that hasn’t been reviewed for accuracy. Since anyone can post on the Internet, it’s up to you to make sure the resources you’re using are reliable.
How do you deal with that problem? You need to use good, reliable search tools; use good searching techniques (see a recently published article on Boolean Phrase Searching right here on EzineArticles for more on that); and take responsibility for thoroughly vetting any material you use. It can be tempting to trust resources that support your hypotheses, but they need to be checked just as thoroughly as anything else you hope to cite, or more so.
Good, reliable search tools mean, when possible, focusing on information available in libraries, government databases, and similarly vetted information repositories, as well as using the appropriate internal search tools. That doesn’t mean you can’t use Google or Wikipedia, but if you do, check out the website your information is coming from. Does the site itself seem reliable? How about the author? Check their sources and check publication dates to be sure you’re getting up-to-date information.
If it feels suspicious, check to see if there are counter articles debunking the theories or studies presented. If something feels questionable, move on. There are plenty more publication fish in the information Sea.
Once you’ve found something you believe is reliable, the next thing you need to be able to do is properly cite Internet resources. Different style guides will put the information in a different order (check the one relevant to your work to be sure), but in general, what you most need would be:
• The author’s name
• Editor (if applicable)
• Year of publication (of the article or of the webpage)
• Title (of the article or of the webpage)
• Medium (“Online”, in this case, typically)
• Any relevant information in terms of journal name, volume, edition, place of publication and publisher/publishing organization
• The complete URL (http:// and all)
• The date you accessed the source
So, for example, let’s say I wanted to cite this article about how fruit flies get drunk (it’s NPR, I trust them). In my bibliography, I would write:
Shute, N.; ed. Godoy, M. (2013) For Fruit Flies, Alcohol Really Is Mommy’s Little Helper [Online] The Salt, Food For Thought, NPR; Available: http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2013/02/21/172589714/for-fruit-flies-alcohol-really-is-mommys-little-helper [Accessed 31 August 2017]
That’s Cambridge University-level citing. For standard APA (much less involved), all you’d need is:
Last Name, Initials. (Year Month Day Published). Article Title. Retrieved from URL.
So that same article would be:
Shute, N. (2013, February 22). For Fruit Flies, Alcohol Really Is Mommy’s Little Helper. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2013/02/21/172589714/for-fruit-flies-alcohol-really-is-mommys-little-helper
And that’s all there is to it. The Internet is a wonderful thing and you can and should make good use of it. Just be smart about it and don’t forget to include your sources!