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Evaluating Web Sources

The WWW provides a means of connecting to a large number of electronic resources on millions of topics via the Internet. It can include text, graphics, video, sound and more. The range of information is enormous, ever-changing and varied. Search engines like Google, and Alta Vista can search the Web for you. Enter a keyword into a search engine, just as you would with the library's catalog and indexes, and view the results.

However, just because something comes packaged in a high-tech format, doesn't mean it's well researched or accurate. You need to be critical of the type of information you use, especially when it comes from the Web because it is currently the cheapest form of publishing. Anyone can make a Web site that looks expert and informative. 

In general, rely more heavily on those sites sponsored by colleges and universities, government agencies, professional associations, and well-known corporations. Critically evaluate your WWW search results. It's important to develop a critical eye in looking at Web sites. The following are some general points to become aware of when using Web information.

  • Be Aware! Not all information is valuable.

A Research Checklist

  • Authority

  • Who publishes this web page?

  • What makes him/her an authority on this subject?

  • Does he/she cite experience or credentials?

  • Is he/she accredited or endorsed by a reputable organization?

  • If educational background is given, are the educational institutions accredited?

  • Does the article contain footnotes to other reputable sources?

Agenda:

  • Is the presenter selling something-- a product, a philosophy, him/herself?

  • What does the extension (.gov, .com, .edu, etc.) tell you about the source?

  • Does the page have a corporate sponsor?

  • Are there hidden costs?

  • Do you have to enter personal information to proceed?

Scope:

  • Who is the intended audience?

  • What time period is covered?

  • What geographical area is covered?

  • Is there a cultural (i.e. Western Europe, Christian) bias?

  • Is this information a subset of a more comprehensive source? If so, who abridged it, and why?

  • Does material taken from other sources appear to be fully credited?

Currency:

  • What is the date of the web page?

  • How frequently is it updated?

  • Is some of the information obviously out of date?

Accuracy:

  • Are the facts that are known to you reliable?

  • Does the coverage appear to be objective? If not, is the bias clear?

From King, Angelynn. "Caveat Surfer: End-User Research on the Web." The Journal of Interlibrary Loan, Document Delivery and Information Supply 8:1 (1997) pp.53-60.

Selected Internet Resources from the

Librarian's Index to the Internet (http://lii.org)

 

Evaluating the Quality of Information on the Internet - http://www.virtualchase.com/quality/index.html

"A checklist for discovering quality in Web-based information, commentary on technical trickery, examples of bogus Web sites, and resources for learning more." Excellent information from the Virtual Chase, a Research Site for Legal Professionals.

 

Evaluating Web Resources- http://www3.widener.edu/Academics/Libraries/Wolfgram_Memorial_Library/Evaluate_Web_Pages/659/

Materials to assist in the teaching of how to evaluate Web resources. Focuses on teaching how to develop critical thinking skills which can be applied to evaluating Web pages. Useful evaluation checklists for Advocacy, Business/Marketing, Informational, News, and Personal Web Pages. Excellent teaching module on the influence of advertisers and sponsors on the objectivity of Web information.

 

T is for Thinking (ICYouSee) - http://www.ithaca.edu/library/training/think.html

An excellent tutorial on using critical thinking when evaluating Internet resources. Includes a pop quiz and homework assignment. A part of the fine ICYouSee Internet training tutorial from the Ithaca College librarians.

 

Evaluating Web Sites: Criteria & Tools - http://www.library.cornell.edu/okuref/research/webeval.html

Excellent basic guide. Includes a link to How to Critically Analyze Information Sources, their excellent guide to evaluating print resources. From the Cornell University Libraries.