Finding Scholarly Sources

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Identifying Reliable Sources

Open Access Tools

Use Google like a Scholar

Identifying Reliable Sources

There is a wealth of information available on the internet, but not all of it is acceptable by academic standards. University-level study will require you to differentiate between a reliable resource and an unreliable resource. Let’s look at a few ways to tell them apart.

Tip: The Online Databases page and Library Catalogue each have guides on how to search those tools.

The URL of a website can give an idea of both the organisation responsible and the motivation behind the website. This is a useful way to determine reliability. The most common domains are:

URL Reliable? Example
.com Websites with .com are usually commercial in nature and their content is often determined by profit or promotion. This does not mean the information is always wrong, but it can often be biased and it is rarely checked against academic standards. It is not recommended that you use .com websites for academic research. www.health.com
.edu An .edu website belongs to either a school, university, or other educational institution. Content on these websites has been developed by the educational institution and is therefore held to a high academic standard. Such websites are considered reliable for your own academic research. www.uow.edu.au
.gov .gov websites belong to a government. In Australia, this includes governments at the national, state or local level. They will often provide statistics, census data, legal proceedings, legislation, information on social services or other primary data, and are considered reliable for the purposes of academic research. www.health.nsw.gov.au
.org These websites often belong to non-profit organisations. Some may simply intend to share information, however they may also advocate a specific point of view or be sponsored by other organisational bodies with an agenda. Judge each .org site individually, based on other criteria. kidshealth.org
.net These websites belong to a network. They can be either a non-profit or commercial organisation. Similar to .org websites, they will need to be analysed on a case-by-case basis, based on other criteria. www.abc.net.au (reliable) or www.healthy.net (unreliable)
Remember: No matter what kind of URL a website has, always check it against other academic standards to verify its reliability.

The age of online information must be considered, and in fields such as health it is often important to ensure your sources are as current as possible. Identify how recently the website has been updated. The copyright date (often located in the footer at the very bottom of a web page) will indicate when the site was last updated. If you have found an article, check the year of publication, or whether the article has been updated since it was originally published.


Online advertising is common feature across the internet. Many websites will include ads, which indicates the website is being commercially funded. Some websites may also embed persuasive or advertising language within the content itself. When reading information online, consider whether you feel you are being encouraged to purchase a product or pay for additional information. For example, does the website ask you to pay a subscription fee or sign up for additional material? This suggests that the website may not have been designed to educate, but rather to make money. This is also a sign that the content on that website may not be reliable, but has been tailored to attract and appease investors and advertisers. It is often preferable to avoid websites with ads.


Evaluate the person or body behind an online source. If the source has a clearly identifiable author, what are their credentials? Are they associated with any organisations? Have they published other research in scholarly journals? Many websites will not list any specific authors responsible for its content, however there may be an About Us page that identifies the person or body responsible for the website’s content. You can then evaluate whether they are a professional and reliable body, or whether they have a bias. Are they trying to promote a particular political, religious or personal point of view? Is the body behind the website driven by evidence or by opinion? This is particularly useful for .org and .net websites.


The best way to identify whether online information is reliable is if the website or article has a reference list. Referencing is a key feature of scholarly content, as this provides evidence to support the reliability of information. References also help identify the author’s own sources, exposing whether the information used to create the resource is in itself reliable.

Commercial websites such as online magazines create content for entertainment. They do not include references because the average reader is not interested. However, this means it is not reliable from an academic point of view. A lack of references or evidence/data shows that the website has not been designed for an academic audience.

Other Characteristics of Scholarly Articles

There are other characteristics that you will find within journal articles in a database, including:

  • An abstract (summary)
  • Publication information
  • Peer-review (the article has been checked by a group of scholars in the relevant field)

Evidence of any of these features is a good sign for reliability. It proves the website is following academic standards.

Open Access Tools

Searching for journal articles outside of NTI’s databases can often lead to a paywall, where researchers are required to pay a fee to access research material. Here are a few tools to help you locate free, legal copies of many articles on the internet without having to pay for access.

Unpaywall icon
Unpaywall is a browser extension available for Chrome and Firefox that will identify whether the article you want is available elsewhere for free. Visit the website for more information on how it works.
Unpaywall icon
Open Access Button
Open Access Button is a website where you can search for articles based on title, URL, DOI, etc., and the site will identify whether there is a free copy available anywhere online. There is also a browser extension available for Chrome or Firefox to identify articles as you search. Visit the website for more information on how it works.
Unpaywall icon
EndNote Click

Endnote Click (formerly known as Kopernio) is a freely available online tool that can help you to identify open access journal articles, as well as collate and save interesting references and resources. It works by providing a link between scholarly search tools (like Google Scholar) and your internet browser, and provides a way to export citations PLUS linked documents. Visit the website for more information on how it works.

Use Google like a Scholar

Google is often the first place to go when seeking answers online. While Google is home to a universe of information, it is not designed to retrieve the best sources for your academic research. When using Google, it is up to you to evaluate each source against academic standards, including those discussed above. But there are ways to manipulate your Google search to retrieve both relevant and reliable sources with Google’s Advanced Search function.

Watch this video by Pace University for some tips on how to use Google’s Advanced Search.


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