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Inquiry Research: Evaluating Websites

Overview

Always evaluate websites for information quality and reliability because anyone with a bit of knowledge about computers and the Internet can put information on the World Wide Web.

Academic research is different from personal research because academic research requires current, correct, and well-documented information written by institutions/people who are authorities on their subjects.  

Sites should be unbiased UNLESS biased information is useful for a particular assignment.

The World Wide Web is a place of business, and sites that want to sell products or services have a different purpose from sites that exist to educate.

Simple as ABC

Use these ABCs as a guide to critically evaluate information on the Web.

  1. Authority
    Who or what organization is publishing the content?  Do they have the knowledge and expertise to publish information about this topic? This information is often found in the About Us or Contact section of a site. 

     
  2. Bias/Purpose
    Is this a commercial site that is trying to sell a service or a product or a site that exists primarily to educate? Does the publishing group and/or author have a bias?   Are there multiple points-of-view analyzed and expressed? 

     
  3. Content
    Does the content fit the research question/assignment? Is the information correct? Read background information about your topic from a reputable source such as a textbook or database first. 

     
  4. Currency
    Is there a publication or update date attached to the article or site? Look at the end of an entry or the bottom of a page
    .

Google Search/Website Evaluation

Evaluate your selection before using:

1. Authority?

  • An individual? An organization? An educational institution?
  • What education or experience makes them an expert?

2. Objectivity?

  • What is the purpose of the site?
  • Basic information? Persuasion? Selling something?
  • What is the motive? Beware of bias (especially from .orgs)

3. Currency?

  • When was the site created? Last updated?
  • Is this current enough for my research?
  • Do the links work?

4. Content Quality?

  • Where does the information come from?
  • Does the author credit sources or give references?
    • References are different than links to “additional information”!

Website Evaluation

Spotlight on Bias/Purpose

The New Oxford American Dictionary describes bias as:

“prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.” 

Sometimes it is easy to determine if a particular website is biased especially around a controversial issue, other times it can be extremely difficult to determine a site’s bias.  It is especially difficult to determine bias when an author does not state their credentials when posting an article on a website or a blog or when reviewing a site that uses a name that doesn’t give away its purpose.  

Here are some tips for determining bias:

1.    Go to the About Us or Contact Us section of the website to find out who publishes the site and other information such as where the organization is located and its purpose or mission. 

2.    Go to the Resources or Links pages to see what other sites the site recommends viewing or what organizations the site promotes.

3.    Google the author or organization to find out if the organization has been in the news

4.    Ask a librarian or teacher to see if they know about a particular site or organization

5.   Go to FactcheckED to see a list of advocacy sites. 

What is the Purpose of the Site?

Look for tips in graphics and text.  Web pages may be...Commercial-(.com) Personal-("tilde" - ~jdoe/birdcarel.htm), Educational-(.edu), Government -(.gov), Persuasive-(.org), Entertaining-(.net),

...or a Hoax!!

Hoaxes present a major challenge for evaluating information found on the Web. To verify the authenticity of the site, you may have to drill down through several layers to find "About" or "Contact Us". Some could give misinformation to the unaware reader.

            Are the authors up-front about their purpose and content?

            Is there a way to contact the authors?

            Do the authors give credit for information used?

            Is there a reference list?

CRAAP Test

Use this worksheet to evaluate your web sources.

Wikipedia Facts

Do you love to use Wikipedia for all your assignments? This site will tell you why it isn't a good source for your research projects.

How to Read a Web Address

.edu       Educational organization (most US universities)

.k12       US school site (not all US schools use this)

.com       Company (usually .co in the UK)

.org        Any organization

.gov       Government agency

Country Codes


A Personal Page:

http://pubweb.northwestern.edu/~abutz/di/intro.html

~ tilde symbol


Internet Archive

What Happens on the Internet,
Stays on the Internet...
 

Easywhois: Look up Who Owns a Website Domain