The internet is full of many things, including kittens, people with no clothes on, and some very angry below-the-line comments. But none of these are much use while writing an essay.\n\n[caption id="attachment_3173" align="aligncenter" width="251"] Unless you're writing an essay about kittens, obviously.(Photo: Ty_Swartz)[\/caption]\n\nHowever, online research is now an essential part of student life, so you need to know how to spot good academic sources amidst the internet\u2019s endless sea of nonsense.\nHow to Tell If a Source is Academic\nIf you\u2019re doing research online, you need to be careful about the sources you use. After all, there\u2019s a lot of information on the internet and most of it is wrong. Thankfully, there are a few things you can do to check whether a website is a reliable source:\n\n1. Look for the Author\/Publisher\n\nIf the page has a named author (look for a name at the top or bottom of an article, or an \u2018About Me\u2019 page for the whole site), see if they have any qualifications or experience in your subject area. If not, they might not be a reliable source.\n\nSimilarly, you can check the company or institution that publishes the site. If it\u2019s a university site, like the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, it\u2019s much more likely to be academic. You can also use well-known journal databases to find good articles.\n\n2. Look at the Writing Style\n\nHow well written is the site you\u2019re using? If it\u2019s full of errors or non-standard spelling and punctuation, it\u2019s probably not very reliable. A good academic source should also be objective. Thus, if the language on a site is very biased or emotive, it won\u2019t be suitable.\n\n3. Look for a Date\n\nTry to find out how current the site is and whether it\u2019s still being updated. Official company websites are usually more up to date (and thus accurate) than other sites, especially if you\u2019re writing about the company itself.\n\n4. Look for Sources\n\nA good website will list or link to its sources. Remember: if the page you\u2019re using doesn\u2019t tell you where it got its information, you have no way of checking whether it\u2019s true.\nThe Dos and Don\u2019ts of Wikipedia\nDespite being the first stop for anyone looking to settle a factual argument, you should know that WIKIPEDIA IS NOT A RELIABLE ACADEMIC SOURCE. Don\u2019t believe us? Check Wikipedia\u2019s page on Academic Use. The first line there is \u2018Wikipedia is not considered a credible source\u2019.\n\n[caption id="attachment_3174" align="aligncenter" width="550"] At least they've got citations for their own unreliability...[\/caption]\n\nAdmittedly, this does raise the question of whether Wikipedia is a reliable source for information about Wikipedia, but we\u2019ll leave that issue for another day. For now, we\u2019ll focus on the two big \u2018Dos\u2019 and \u2018Don\u2019ts\u2019 of using Wikipedia to research an essay:\n\n \tDO use Wikipedia as a starting point if you\u2019re not sure where else to look. Your best approach is to look for relevant information with a linked source at the bottom of the page. This can lead you to books and other sources more suitable for research.\n \tDON\u2019T cite Wikipedia in your work. Using it to find sources is one thing, but it isn\u2019t trustworthy in itself. If you cite Wikipedia in your work, you will almost certainly lose marks.\n\nNow go! Get on the internet and do your research. Just remember to look in the right places.