In school, especially in university, the teachers drill into us what is and is not an acceptable source for referencing things. General rule of thumb is that academic sites (most often signified by the .org ending) are ok, and everything else is not. But as the internet and what people are posting on it expands, more and more often we see sites that don’t necessarily fall into the “academic” listing, but still have perfectly valid information on them. Not just are there now sites that let you preview written works (Google Books), and others that post the entirety of books from a very long time ago, but random bloggers and other individuals who have done the old fashioned, library scouring research, are now sharing their knowledge with the world. For example, I did a double major in Psychology and Classical Studies. While it was only a bachelors degree I still have information about those topics that may not be easily accessed online that I can share.
Now, if you have time, I do recommend going to your local library and checking out some books. Proper books can give you a much fuller understanding of most topics (as much of the internet strives to be short and concise to accommodate short attention spans). If you don’t have the time, or you just want a quick reference check to make sure a minor aspect in a story isn’t a glaringly obvious misconception, doing a search can be a huge help.
Looking for journal articles is one good way to go. In university I was a huge fan of JSTOR. But now that I’m no longer a student I don’t have access to that site unless I physically go to the local university and use their internet connection to check in to the site (which I have done on occasion… just parked and plugged a meter for a couple hours and downloaded tons of journal articles to read through fully later). JSTOR should have a link to check to see if a local library or school is signed up with them… and they do have some items that are free to view. There are other journal repositories out there, usually created by groups that own several journals and allow individuals to view all their published works… for a price.
Wikipedia is a common site to check out when looking for quick information and I have yet to actually encounter a page with incorrect information. In university I’d use Wikipedia to search ideas out to get a general idea of where I wanted to go with a paper before tracking down “proper” sources. The problem most teachers have is that anybody really can edit a Wikipedia page, so there is always the chance that somebody is purposefully lying, or that somebody with incorrect knowledge is making changes. (Of course, you can encounter traditionally published books with the exact same problem. I was read a mythology encyclopedia that was so horribly incorrect on numerous points that I used it as an example in a paper years later on why finding good resource material is so difficult)
For several of the research information I’ve posted here previously I’ve used and cited Wikipedia. Most times I’ve previously verified the information elsewhere, but due to that “free editing” element its difficult to say 100% whether a linked page is accurate -even if the facts were double checked. Still, my experiences have led me to feel comfortable referring there when I need some information. It’ll be up to you whether you feel the same way. If you don’t, then that’s alright. You’ll just need to do some extra leg work.
A good reference site/blog/page will link you to where they’ve gotten their sources, or else state what book its from. Occasionally you’ll get a “this is what my degree is in, so I am the source”. If they do have that degree then the information should be good.
Finally, beware of the topics that are debatable. Which I am aware could technically be any topic out there. But there are some topics which are hotly contested that you wouldn’t necessarily think would be. Things like different font styles can cause huge debates and discussions. As can religion and politics (obviously). When getting my degree I’ve had two different professors say two contradicting things, yet they could both be considered experts in the same field. Sometimes that’s a case of a complex topic being simplified at low levels of study, and sometimes it’s just personal biases influencing how information is examined. The cause of the fall of the Roman Empire is rife with such divisions. Just be aware that these issues can happen and if the source you’re reading doesn’t mention opposing views (whether to dismiss them or give them adequate weight) don’t just assume there aren’t any. Check some other sources too, just to make sure you aren’t getting half the story.
But whenever in doubt, the best thing to do is to return to (peer-reviewed) journal articles and books. They’re more reliable than the mutable internet, if less accessible.
On an unrelated note, I’ve posted a second video to the Story Builder campaign. This one shows how a game plays out a little better. Check it out: