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Writing A Research Paper: Evaluating Web Resources
The Web offers a wealth of information, but not all of it is equally accurate or reliable. Unfortunately, there is no easy checklist to consult to see if a Web page is credible. As with all information resources, the usefulness of the information may depend on what was needed in the first place. If you're using a Web-based source for an academic research paper, you'll need to evaluate and cite the source carefully.
Concepts to Consider
Is the author of the page clearly identified? What are their credentials for writing on this topic?
Is the author affiliated with an organization? What is the reputation of that organization?
Is there a link back to the organization's page or some other way to contact the organization and/or verify its credibility? (address, phone number, e-mail address?)
Who publishes and/or is responsible for the website itself? Who has registered the URL?
Is the page part of an edited or peer-reviewed publication?
Does the content of the page convey the amount, depth, and significance of the evidence being presented? Are the arguments persuasive?
Can factual information be verified through footnotes or bibliographies to other credible sources?
Has the site been evaluated by one of the Web subject indexes, a rating service or a library? If so, can you tell what criteria they used?
Did you find this source using an internet search engines such as Google or Yahoo? They neither select the best pages nor filter out questionable ones, so you need to evaluate the choices carefully. They also may not always have the most recent version of the page.
Based on what you already know about the subject (or have checked from other sources), does this information seem credible?
Are there obvious typos or misspelled words or other signs of sloppiness?
If you found information using one of the search engines available on the Internet, such as Google or Yahoo, you need to know:
How the search engine decides the order in which it returns information requested. Some Internet search engines "sell" top space to advertisers who pay them to do so. Read Buying Your Way In from Searchenginewatch.com.
Internet search engines aren't like the databases found in libraries. Library databases include subject headings, abstracts, and other evaluative information created by information professionals to make searching more accurate. In addition, library databases index more permanent and reliable information.
How that search engine looks for information, and how often their information is updated. An excellent source for search engine information is Search Engine Showdown, written by Greg R. Notes.
All information, whether in print or by byte, needs to be evaluated by readers for authority, appropriateness, and other personal criteria for value. If you find information that is "too good to be true", it probably is. Never use information that you cannot verify. Establishing and learning criteria to filter information you find on the Internet is a good beginning for becoming a critical consumer of information in all forms. "Cast a cold eye" (as Yeats wrote) on everything you read. Question it. Look for other sources that can authenticate or corroborate what you find. Learn to be skeptical and then learn to trust your instincts.
Types of Web Pages
Advocacy: These pages attempt to influence public opinion. Their web address frequently ends with .org (organization).
Personal: These pages are published by an individual who may
or may not be affiliated with a larger institution or organization.
Their web address may have a variety of endings (.com, .edu, etc.), and will frequently contain a tilde (~).