Why having good citations matters.
Why Citations Are Important
First, people have asked me why it's important to include citations in the first place.
Aside from the fact that many teachers or editors require you to include citations in your work, including citations is necessary to acknowledge the people whose work you've incorporated into your document. Not including citations is a quick route to plagiarism: more commonly known as taking credit for someone else's words or ideas. Including citations is mandatory when you've drawn on someone else's original work or quoted someone verbatim.
Even when citations aren't necessary to avoid plagiarism, including citations helps people who want to learn more about your topic. Citations are a great starting point for further research. And including citations adds credibility to your writing. Frankly, I include citations at the end of most of my transcripts to head off people who disagree with my recommendations relating to points of style or topics where there are common misconceptions. I'm completely open to disagreement and discussion, but I don't just make this stuff up; I research every topic I cover. I'm almost always sorry when I don't include references on the website, and more than once, especially in the early years, I've gone back, reconstructed my work, and added them later.
Risks of Citing Electronic Sources
OK, so now that I've convinced you to include citations, it's time to think about the special risks of citing an electronic source like a website, podcast, or blog.
First, you have to determine whether it's a credible source, and second, you have to worry about whether it will still exist tomorrow.
Determining whether a source is credible is subjective, but here are a few things to look for and consider:
Can you tell who wrote the site? And if so, does the author seem to have any expertise in the area you are researching? The Stanford Cancer Center is likely to be a more credible source than Aunt Mary's Kancer Page.
What are the credentials (or at least the stated credentials) of the author? I might take Aunt Mary more seriously if she is a board certified oncologist practicing at a well-known hospital or university.
Can you tell when the page you are looking at was written? All else being equal, something written recently is generally more credible than something that hasn't been updated in years.
Does the page cite other credible sources you can check? (There's that point about citations adding credibility again!)
Does it sound too good to be true? If it does, it probably is.
Is the site selling something based on the information it’s providing? If so, be wary.
Do other credible sites link to the site? Many online tools let you see what sites link to other sites and pages. One free tool is the site explorer at moz.com.
Finally, use common sense and evaluate the arguments yourself. It's up to you to determine whether a site's conclusions are actually supported by its statements.