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Research and Writing (RaW): Print vs. Online Resources

Guiding you through the process of finding information - from knowing that you need certain information...to locating, evaluating, and effectively using said information.

Important

We live in a digital age, where we can access a ton of information with the push of a button. Because of that, it's important to understand the differences between print and online resources. Many resources, like journal or newspaper articles, can be found in both formats. However, a lot of what you'll find on the Internet does not have a print equivalent, which means that it has no or low standards for publication. You can literally write whatever you want on the Internet, and it becomes the reader's job to determine whether or not it is factual and reliable. Understanding the major differences between print and online resources will thus help you to evaluate what you find.

  Print Resources Online Resources
Publication Process                 Traditional print sources go through an extensive publication process that includes editing and article review. The process has fact-checkers, multiple reviewers, and editors to ensure quality of publication. Anyone with a computer and access to the Internet can publish a website or electronic document. Most websites do not have editors, fact-checkers, or other types of reviewers.          
Publication Information Publication information such as date of publication, publisher, author, and editor are always clearly listed in print publications. Dates of publication and timeliness of information are questionable on the Internet. Dates listed on website could be the date posted, date updated, or a date may not be listed at all.
Authorship and Affiliations Print sources clearly indicate who the author is, what organization(s) he or she is affiliated with, and when his or her work was published. Authorship and affiliations are difficult to determine on the Internet. Some websites may have author and sponsorship listed, but many do not.
Author Qualifications Qualifications of an author are almost always necessary for print sources. Only qualified authors are likely to have their manuscripts accepted for publication. Even if the author and purpose of a website can be determined, the qualifications of the author are not always given.
Sources and Quotations In most traditional publications, external sources of information and direct quotations are clearly marked and identified. Sources the author used or referred to in the text may not be clearly indicated in an Internet source.                            
Bias While bias certainly exists in traditional publications, printing is more expensive and difficult to accomplish. Most major publishers are out to make a profit and will either not cater to special interest groups or will clearly indicate when they are catering to special interest groups. The purpose of the online text may be misleading. A website that appears to be factual may actually be persuasive and/or deceptive.