For years now, dot-coms have been catching a bad rap, and the time has come to dispel some myths preventing students from finding the quality information they need to complete their research assignments.
Commonly, we hear dot-com websites tagged with the monikers of ‘un-trustworthy’, ‘non-academic’, and ‘non-authoritative’. In the past these sentiments were mostly true, but the reality is that it’s not 2001 anymore. People aren’t going to purchase .99 domain names so they can create web-pages loaded with unverified information on GeoCities. We’re living in 2019, and for the most part, the world has figured this internet thing out. Mostly.
So, dot-coms are legitimate?
They can be. Now, there is bad information on the internet—absolutely, but it’s not fair to place a moratorium on all dot-coms simply because a few of them are bad. Remember, all thumbs are fingers, but not all fingers are thumbs. All dot-coms are not created equally, and not all dot-coms are useless in regard to academic research.
The biggest problem with the internet is that there are few to no regulations ensuring that what we find online is true or accurate, so a researcher needs to approach that information with a healthy amount of skepticism. He or she should not be afraid to challenge the authority of who is making these claims.
How to assess dot-coms
A website’s authority can be easily assessed by investigating the person, people, or entity that is sponsoring the information. The sponsor can typically be found at the bottom of the webpage, and a Google search will provide the researcher with information on that entity. If the source is reputable, the information is sound. If the source is not reputable, it can be assumed that he information is not fit for academic purposes. If no sponsor is stated, there’s your answer. If no one is willing to put their name on it, it’s probably not the best information to use in an academic paper.
What it comes down to is evaluating the authority of the source and deciding if it is appropriate for the assignment in question. For instance, if your professor has asked you to write a paper about the medical ethics concerning abortion, an article about abortion found on a news website may not fit the bill. However, if your paper is about the social phenomenon of abortion, and that news article contains statistics you’d like to reference in your paper, it may be fine. In fact, you may not be able to find that same information through the databases since it often takes years for articles to get published in academic journals. Remember, it’s all about the context of the assignment.
What about .edu, .gov, or .org?
In the same vein, a website isn’t automatically reputable simply because it ends in .edu, .gov, or .org. Dot-edus are typically trusted because they belong to educational institutions. Likewise, dot-govs are generally accepted because they are government based. However, healthy skepticism should be held in regard to dot-orgs because those websites belong to organizations, and as such, the information is only as credible as the organization producing the content.
Advocacy groups, non-profits, and other non-commercial entities—practically everything from “green” groups and professional associations to citizen watches and nationalist organizations—are the complex genetic makeup of dot-orgs. Because dot-orgs can be credible but also be bunk, teaching young researchers Sith-like absolutism can be dangerous. We may be steering them away from well-meaning news and information sources and delivering them to organizations who have an agenda to push, and so, the information they provide is slant.
Dot-coms are not dot-bombs, but they do need to be approached with caution and examined for their validity. Dot-coms can and do contribute to academic conversations, and deserve to be treated with more respect than they have in the past.
Want some help?
Ready to compile your research? Visit any campus Learning Resources center to receive some help in building your paper. Writing Studio staff can help you plan your essay and navigate the best route to take. They can also help you look into common errors in sentence structure and refine your essay to a T.