Proceed with Caution
Despite the Web's seemingly ubiquitous utility, it is crucial to recognize potential pitfalls in using the Internet as an information source. Discriminating between appropriate scholarly sources and others that might seem just as good is not always easy. Myriad issues plague net-based research but foremost among them is the typical lack of insight one has about where the information is coming from on a given webpage.
Sites like Wikipedia, which may initially seem tailor-made for starting a research project (or quickly solving last-minute, late-night research problems), are treacherous largely because you don't know who wrote whatever material you might want to use. It could be legitimate and reliable; it could be opinion; it could be purposefully misleading. For this reason, using webpages as sources for research should generally be avoided.
On the other hand, some websites are perfectly reasonable to access when doing research. For example, many journals and other forms of scholarly work are now readily found online. The exact same articles and books that used to be found only as “hard copy” in the library are now also online (be sure to use a standard journal citation, rather than web citation in these cases!).
Other non-academic websites may also provide information for your own research, such as the website for The World Bank or the International Monetary Fund. Or you may also find yourself doing an analysis of a particular website or organization and use their online presence for research; for example, in a project on human rights organizations, the Amnesty International website might be quite appropriate.
Finally, there is an important difference between general search engines, like Google or even Google Scholar, and academic databases. If you are going to begin a project by doing research on the Web, a great place to start is here: LITS Research Guides. You can find an academic database there that is appropriate for your discipline, and which will lead you to good, reliable on-line sources. Remember, your librarians and professors can assist you in using and citing internet resources correctly!
Learn more about evaluating websites using the recommended links on this page.