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Evaluating Information on the Internet

The Internet contains billions of pages, everything from rigorous research to deliberate misinformation.  Unlike printed materials, such as books and articles, webpages are not required to meet standards of fairness, accuracy, and statistical validity.  This lack of quality control poses special problems for researchers, who must critically evaluate each webpage for accuracy, reliability, and objectivity. To assess whether a website is an appropriate resource for your research paper, consider these characteristics:


 

Authority

Websites can be developed by people, groups, organizations, institutions, corporations, and governmental bodies.  It is not always easy to see immediately who is responsible for a webpage, but reputable sites will always identify the author(s) and provide contact information, including postal addresses, telephone numbers, and email addresses.  Check the URL domain (.edu, .gov, .org, .gov) for clues.  Then ask yourself the following questions:

·         Who is the author or producer of the website?

·         What is the authority or expertise of the individual or group that created the site? 

·         How knowledgeable is the individual or group on the subject matter of the site?

·         Are the author(s) qualifications and credentials listed?

 

If you do not find an author, a name of an organization, an institution, or an email address, you have no way to determine if the information is authoritative.  Try another source.


Objectivity

Because anyone can publish on the Internet, it is possible for a website to appear objective, but in fact be promoting a particular viewpoint.  Critically evaluate each webpage to determine if the statements or opinions presented are trying to sell, manipulate, or persuade you.  Ask the following questions:

·         Is the information presented without bias?

·         Does the author acknowledge his or her bias?

·         Does the author express a particular point of view?

·         Does the author write for his or her specific audience without unfairly slanting the information?

·         Does the author avoid emotionally charged language used for the purpose of deceiving his or her audience?

·         Does the author acknowledge other points of view and treat them fairly even though he/she may disagree with the point of view?


Accuracy

When you find facts, statistics, and other data on the Internet, it does not automatically guarantee that the information is accurate.  Ask yourself the following questions:

·         If facts and figures are given, are they accurate and reliable?

·         Are the sources for the information clearly listed?

·         Can the sources be verified in another source?

·         Are the facts consistent with other information you have found?


Content/

Coverage

Use your critical thinking skills to determine if the website meets your research needs or purposes:

  • Is the topic thoroughly covered?
  • Is the information on the site free, or is there a fee required to link to some or all of the information?
  • What is the relative value of the website in comparison to the range of information already available on the topic?
  • Is the information unique and useful, or repetitious?

Content/Coverage

Use your critical thinking skills to determine if the website meets your research needs or purposes:

Is the topic thoroughly covered?

·         Is the information on the site free, or is there a fee required to link to some or all of the information?

·         What is the relative value of the website in comparison to the range of information already available on the topic?

 Is the information unique and useful, or repetitious?

I

Currency

Currency is essential for many research areas, especially cutting-edge scientific and technological topics.  One of the advantages of the Internet is that information can be quickly posted, revised, and updated.  Look for the original date of posting and the revision dates, then determine the following:

·         Is the publication date clearly labeled?

·         Is any information on the page outdated?

·         Do the links to other sites still work? 

·         Is the site updated frequently or was the information just dumped and left on the Internet?

If the publication date is not listed on the Internet, try another source.

 

 

INTERNET DOMAINS

On the Internet, each website address or URL has a domain as part of the address that identifies the owner of the website.  The domain can be a quick way to judge the quality of a website before visiting it.  As a general rule, .edu, .gov, and .org are more likely to have higher quality information than .com domains.  The most common domains are:

 

Type of Site

 

Domain

 

Education 

Used by schools, colleges, universities, and educational institutions.  Pages can be maintained by institutions, instructors, students, and campus organizations.  Domains with .edu are generally reliable, high-quality websites.

.edu

Government

Local, state, and federal government websites.  Most government websites are informational; they may be objective or reflect the biases of those in power.  Be particularly wary of information that comes from dictatorships or non-democratic countries. 

.gov

Military

Be wary of military information from dictatorships or non-democratic countries. 

.mil

Companies, Commercial Organizations, and For-profit Organizations

Domains with .com are designed to promote and sell information, services, and goods on the Internet and should be used with extreme caution. 

.com

 

Non-Profit Organizations

Organizations range from well-known, established organizations (e.g., United Nations, Amnesty International, Red Cross) to disreputable scam organizations.

.org

Network

Network access groups, such as AOL and Earthlink, as well as personal sites that should always be checked for authority.

.net

Dr/5/08