Using the Internet as a resource for writing

In Chapter 5 we talked about reading as part of writing. We concentrated on the traditional written texts that you are most likely to use for your studies: books and journal articles. Increasingly, students are turning to the Internet as an additional resource for their studies, and so we approach this section on using the Internet in much the same way as we approached other kinds of reading - that is, in relation to your writing.

When you use reading lists and the library to find the resources you need for completing assignments you can reasonably assume that the resources have been vetted for their authority and validity. Academic staff have decided that certain sources represent authoritative texts for you to read. This is because these books and articles have been written by respected and experienced specialists in the field, whether your studies are in academic, professional or vocational subjects. Unfortunately, you cannot make the same kind of assumptions about resources that you access via the Internet. There are a number of obvious ways in which resources you find using the Internet may be very different from the those you would get from the library. For example:

• they are generally not monitored for their quality;

• they do not give obvious clues about the authority of the text;

• they may be more concerned with presenting an image rather than academic credibility;

• they may include a mix of both written and visual texts;

• they link easily and quickly to other related texts.

We need to make a distinction here between using the Internet to find your own resources and using web-based resources which have been monitored and provided by the lecturers and tutors in your department. You may find that academic staff put resources on the Internet for you to access. These may be lecture notes or other material which has been vetted and sanctioned as appropriate for you to use. Obviously, because they are recommended texts, there is no need to approach them with caution.

When you use the Internet to do your own research you need to develop some understanding of how to evaluate the validity and authority of the sites that you visit. Once you have found a site that you think you might like to refer to in your written work, you need to evaluate it and decide whether you can reasonably regard it as an authoritative source. The next section should help you to do this.

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