Citing Your Research from Internet Sources
A WRITER’S MANUAL
This manual was written cooperatively between the UMC Writing Center, the UMC library and the UMC Department of Communication. It is designed as a reference to which students may turn for help with all parts of the writing process, and which faculty may use to help their students. In addition to offering practical tips to writing for students, the manual also provides helpful information on research and research methods, plagiarism, citing in multiple styles, and many valuable links. All links offered herein are used with permission of the sponsoring institution.
CITING YOUR RESEARCH
What does my instructor mean when he/she says, “No more than one non-attributed cite?” Or, “Must include at least three refereed journals?” This first section will standardize and define some common terms related to research, allowing the instructor to precisely define requirements or restrictions on certain types of electronically-based sites for student assignments.
In the past, almost all information came in print form. Paper journals were the most often-used research tool. Although paper journals are still used, on-line information is more and more becoming the first choice of students and researchers. Even many of the top-flight traditional academic journals, such as the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), are also available in electronic format.
On-line research is the general term which refers to any electronically-retrieved data. As a general rule, the veracity (reliability) of on-line sites can be presented as a triangle, divided into three measures of reliability, designated gold, silver and bronze. (Click here to see a diagram of the categories of Gold, Silver, and Bronze sites.)
Gold sites are those with the most reliable information. Because of that, they are also the fewest in number. Sites in the gold category include professional, scholarly, academic peer reviewed and refereed journals or sites. All of these terms are just a fancy way of saying that each article contained in the journal or site has been thoroughly reviewed by a panel of experts in that field of study, and that the writer’s research and writing procedures adhere to those established in that discipline. Examples of refereed journals include the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), and the Journal of Wildlife Management. Most major fields have at least one refereed journal. Some have many. Text books are also peer reviewed.
Does publication in a refereed or peer-reviewed journal “guarantee” that the information is accurate? Well, yes…and no. The information published in a peer-reviewed or refereed journal is accurate when compared against the best information available at the time of publication; that may change with further research. However, citing a peer-reviewed or refereed journal will give your paper maximum credibility. Use the highest number of citations from gold sites as you can in your research.
Silver sites are those in which credibility is likely to be high, but which may or may not be formally peer-reviewed. This means that you as a writer are responsible for judging the reliability of the information on these sites. Some examples of silver sites include:
- Libraries You will find all kinds of information in libraries, and at library sites--from Reader’s Digest to The Gulag Archipelago. But the kind of information we are talking about here is the information actually published by libraries. Librarians tend to be very meticulous (careful) people, and so this information tends to be very accurate. For example, the UMC library has its own quick guide to the American Psychological Association (APA) style of writing on its website http://www.umcrookston.edu/library/links/apa5th.htm and links to other sites. All sites listed have been examined by professional librarians, and selected for their accuracy and reliability.
- Trade Publications are those documents produced by industry about their industry. Examples include Rubber World, about the rubber industry and Corrugated Container quarterly, about the cardboard industry. It is important for you to judge whether a trade publication is trying its best to publish accurate information—whether positive or negative—about the industry, or it is an “advocacy’ publication, trying to present the industry in the most positive light.
- Government Documents are those considered to be the “official position” of the federal, state, or local government. Government sites/documents earn a certain amount of credibility because they are official, but be cautious: the government, like others, may be seeking to present itself or its information in the most flattering light.
- Newspapers can be a good source of information, if you keep in mind their limitations, and reputations; however, they should not be used as the main source upon which to build a research article. Unlike refereed journals, which are designed for professionals, newspapers are written to appeal to readers. Some, like the Christian Science Monitor, have high standards of objectivity, while others are little more than scandal sheets. Keep in mind that newspapers are written on a daily basis, leaving less time to research and verify facts.
- News Magazines are those weekly or monthly magazines dedicated to reporting on news and world events. Newsweek, U.S. News and World Reports and Time magazine are examples. Like newspapers, information in news magazines (including 60 minutes and other televised “magazine” shows) varies from highly accurate to highly inaccurate. With certain exceptions, most are designed to appeal to an audience. Some are deliberately political
- Popular Magazines are designed to present information in an eyes-catching format. People, US Weekly, Reader’s Digest are examples. The reliability of information contained in popular magazines or their sites should always be verified through other sources.
- Company/Agency Websites are those produced by virtually all businesses, foundations and universities today. As a rule, you will find the most positive information, aspirations and goals about the company on these websites. You must ask yourself if the whole story is being told.
- Wikis are online encyclopedias offering general information. Because anyone can make changes to Wikis, they can be very useful for background information; however, they should not be used as a citation source in a research paper.
Bronze sites are last and least. Examples include:
- Homemade Websites are just what they imply: a website made by individuals for their own reasons. Remember, anyone can make a website, and make it say anything they want (link to Owen’s “Minnesota Coconut Grower’s” site). Because the quality of these sites range from writers who take great care to add only accurate information to conspiracy theorists, the information must be treated as unverified. Information from these sites should be treated as unreliable. These sites are inappropriate for all but general background information.
- Blogs are no more than on-line diaries. In other words, purely opinion. Except possibly to offer example, it would be difficult to imagine a situation which would allow citing a blog in a research paper.
- Facebook and Myspace pages, like blogs, are not really “sites” at all in the sense of research. They are not in any way authorities and have no place in academic writing. An additional caution regarding participation in these two media is that prospective employers are now checking Google.com for information about job applicants’ correspondence on Myspace or Facebook. Anything you have posted on-line is now community property. A lot of young people are not receiving call-backs from prospective employers even though they have stellar resumes because of information retrieved from Myspace or Facebook. A good rule of thumb: only write things that you won't mind an employer reading. So don't say negative things about other people (or past jobs), or post questionable pictures and activities. Unfortunately, once you post something, someone else may take your picture and add it to their site with extra stuff added. If you find something negative about you on the Internet, you can have it removed but you generally have to hire a company to remove the information.
By Rand Rasmussen, Ph.D.