Unfortunately, the answer to this question is 'it depends' - on the website, and on your assignment. There is lots of fantastic and reliable information available for free on the internet, but there is also a lot of rubbish. You should be evaluating all of the information you use in your assignments, but this is particularly important for websites.
This page will give you some resources to help you get started with searching and evaluating websites. If you need any further guidance, please contact library staff.
Google Scholar is a free search engine that searches across academic sources: the academic version of Google. Google Scholar will search across all indexed sources including journals, publishers, and universities.
While you may not get free access to everything, you can usually see the abstract or an earlier version of the article that isn't behind a paywall. Abstracts are an excellent way to see whether an article is of use to you, and usually include a summary of the findings.
As you are a student of a university, you can set up Google Scholar to show you when an item in the results is available for you to access via the university. Go to the menu, select the settings cog and then the 'Library links' option on the left. In the search bar type 'Coventry University' and press enter, the university will then appear in a list under the search bar. Make sure the box next to 'Coventry University' is ticked.
Next time you search for something, to the right of each search result you will be able to see whether the full text of the item is available to access through Coventry University, a link with the words 'Locate it' will appear to the right of each item. Other links may also appear showing where you can get the full pdf version of the article; always check the details of these as they may not be the final published version, but these can still be useful if we don't have access to that article via our subscriptions. If the 'Locate it' link appears as an option, always use that.
Google Scholar also has citations in APA which you can copy, although you should always double check these as they can sometimes have elements missing. You can also save these in RefWorks. Go to settings and under 'Bibliography manager' tick the box that says 'Show links to import citations into' and from the drop down menu select 'RefWorks'. Now 'Import into RefWorks' will show under each result.
On Google Scholar you are able to see the number of times an article has been cited by others, this can be a useful way to find other relevant articles and research related to your topic.
For more help and tips on how to use Google Scholar see here.
If you are looking for information through Google, there are many advanced search techniques which can help you get to the information you need more quickly. They can also help you to find more reliable information. Click the links below for a full list of search tips, or the tabs above for some of the most useful commands.
You can ask Google to search individual websites or groups of websites sharing a domain. To do this, type site: followed by the web address or domain without any spaces. For example:
You can combine this with file type searching. For example, if you search for site:gov.uk filetype:pdf you may be able to find UK government reports.
Google can search for documents that are available online based on their file format. To do this, type filetype: followed by the file format with no spaces. For example:
Note that newer documents created in Microsoft Office often have an 'x' on the end (e.g. docx instead of doc). You will need to search for these separately.
You can combine this with domain searching. For example, if you search for filetype:ppt site:ac.uk you may be able to find lecture slides from other UK universities.
You should never use Wikipedia as a reference in academic assignments. Anyone can edit Wikipedia (you can try this yourself - most Wikipedia articles have an 'edit' link next to every section) and the articles are changing all the time, so there is no guarantee that the information is reliable.
However, if you are researching a new topic which you know nothing about, Wikipedia can often provide an easy-to-read summary of the subject. After this introduction, you should then use academic sources to go more in depth. You may also wish to check the references at the bottom of the Wikipedia article, but remember that you will need to evaluate these sources too.
When evaluating sources of information, there are lots of factors to consider. The CRAAP Test is a quick check to determine whether a resource is appropriate to use in your assignment.
The CRAAP Test was created by librarians at California State University. For more information, click here to view their written guide. Alternatively, contact the Library team.
Did you know that Google tracks your search history and changes the results it gives you based on what it thinks you want to see? Fortunately, Google is not the only search engine out there. So whether you're struggling to make Google give you what you want, or you have concerns about Google's respect for your privacy, you may wish to try out these alternatives: