Looking for more resources on top of what you are given at school is always useful for academic success and general interest. But you might be wondering how to know whether a resource or source is useful and whether it is trustworthy. Essentially, is the information given there checked and correct?
Textbooks are a good bet for finding accurate information for use in school. If you need to find something out for a lesson, make sure you have a look in your textbook first. The subject-standard textbook is useful for definitions and information specific to that version of the course. However, your school library may also have textbooks from other versions of the course with addition or different information. Check these out as well if you’re struggling to find the right stuff!
Some things to consider with textbooks:
- Is the book up to date? Some textbooks have a long time between prints and so some of the information could be out of date.
- Although it should be fairly neutral, have a look out for bias in subjects that tend to inspire strong opinions.
If you’ve read our ‘What Kind of Learner Are You’ resource, then you’ll know that some people learn best from video and audio content. You might want to change up your learning by searching YouTube or podcast platforms for an explanation of concepts that you’re struggling with in other forms.
It’s quite difficult to puzzle out what is and isn’t reliable on YouTube, so it is generally good practice to fact check what you’ve heard. But there are some things to look out for that will make your life easier:
- Is the channel an official one? I.e. try to use a channel that comes from a reliable source, like BBC Bitesize, TEDTalks or National Geographic.
- Certain subjects work better than others for using YouTube as a resource – YouTube is a great place to find new angles on a book or topic, or to explain concepts in science that have discreet steps.
- Who runs the channel? Are they an expert in their field, or does their channel cater for a wide range of interests? Depending on what you need it for, either is usually fine, but make sure that you use material from an industry expert for deeper research.
This is where it is most difficult to find reliable resources because there is so much out there! Anyone can post something online, regardless of their level of knowledge in a subject. But it’s still a useful place for you to find resources to help you better understand concepts from lessons.
There are a few things to look for when it comes to finding reliable resources online.
- Look at the URL. Does it contain a .edu or a ac.uk? Not having these doesn’t mean that a resource isn’t reliable, but these URLs indicate that they belong to either a UK or US academic institution like a university.
- Look at the date. The information could be outdated, particularly if it is a subject based on constant research, like sciences. Subjects like English, maths and languages are unlikely to go out of date as easily, but still bear it in mind.
- What form is it? If it’s a blog or opinion piece, you might struggle to get facts out of it since it is based on personal opinion and may contain bias. However, this can also be useful for subjects that require a variety of viewpoints like English. Just be careful to use them to inform your own opinion, rather than copying it directly.
- Do you recognise the website name? A well-known website is likely to be more trustworthy than an obscure one. Contrary to popular opinion, Wikipedia is extensively fact-checked and is hard to edit with incorrect information without it being picked up by an admin. Try to avoid using it for everything as there is always the risk of it being inaccurate as it is open to edit by the public, but it is a very valuable resource for finding information.
- Do be aware that, even with popular sites, some reporting is made up of opinion. If you are looking for information for English, History, RE, anything that inspires strong opinions, then bear in mind that even popular sites often carry some form of bias or personal opinion.
This is not an exhaustive list of resources that you might use or ways to verify that they’re reliable, but this advice should help you identify the most unreliable resources, as these aren’t things that you want to be using in school or college work.