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Evaluating Sources: Evaluating Web Resources
This guide will help you evaluate the authority and appropriateness of research sources.
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
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.
Types of Web Page Addresses
In summary, the URL or address of a web page often carries
information about the source of the information. There are 5 primary
domains (or address groups) for U.S. pages:
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 (~).
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 AltaVista or
InfoSeek, a directory of the Internet such as Yahoo, or any of the services that
rate World Wide Web pages, 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.
That 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
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. Notess.
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.