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Evaluating Sources: Web Site Evaluation

It is important to investigate and evaluate all sources. Whether a Web site or in paper, the same criteria basically apply for both.

EVALUATING WEB CONTENT

Coverage
  • How completely does the site explore the topic. Compare it to other sites.
  • Does it provide you with a bibliography of printed works or a list of other sites to help you expand your understanding of the topic.
  • If the material is a digitized version of a printed document, is it complete including images, graphs, tables, etc..
  • Do the sources come from a variety of journals, books, and other materials, or does the author cite the same sources repeatedly.
Objectivity  
  • Does the author or publisher of the page have a vested interest in the topic.
  • Are the author's sources of information clearly documented and, if you are lucky, linked.
  • Are both pro and con views of controversial topics given.
Currency  
  • Does the site tell you when it was first created.
  • If the material is digitized from printed copy, what edition was used. Is it the most up to date available.
  • Does the page clearly indicate when it was last updated.
Accuracy  
  • Is the factual information given correct. Error creeps in, even in printed material with editors and proofreaders. More error creeps into the web where there are fewer control mechanisms. Check crucial facts in another resource either on the web or in print. Ask a librarian for recommended sources.
Design
  • Easy to navigate within or among pages
  • Availability of an search function or index on a large site
  • Aesthetically pleasing graphics and color
  • Easy to read text and color
  • Thumbnail graphics and rapid download of graphics
  • It is easy to print or download information from the site.

PERSPECTIVE

Your Purpose
The value of any web site has to be judged in the context of what you need at that particular time. If you need material on the effect of a star player's salary on a basketball team's long term earning power for a paper in micro economics, you need a different site than the one you use to find out the scores from last night's game. The more clearly you can define your needs, and the more you already know about the background of your topic, the easier it will be to evaluate the usefulness of what you find.

  • Ask a Reference Librarian to recommend a source to serve as an overview.

  • Use the Guides section of the Library's Research page to identify both print and online starting points.
Author's Purpose


Who is the individual or organization responsible for the scope and accuracy of the content on the page. Be wary of sites that do not clearly identify an author, and do not confuse the "webmaster" or designer of the site with the author of the page's content.

  • Look for an "About Us" or "Authors" page providing information about the qualifications of the authors.

  • If you can't identify an individual author, look for the copyright symbol, often found at the bottom of the page, to determine who claims responsibility for the page.

  • It is often possible to identify the organization responsible for the server on which the page sits by examining the first portion of the url.

  • Personal pages created by individuals are often hosted on .edu, .net, .org, and some .com servers. A tilde sign (~) in front of a name is often a sign of a personal page.

  • If you are able to identify an individual author, try to answer these questions:
    1. Does the person have professional credentials in this field.
    2. There are many biographical directories and encyclopedias in the Reference section of the library such as Who's Who in America, Directory of American Scholars, or Biography Index. Ask a Librarian to recommend the ones most useful for your purpose. A quick search for a name in newspaper sources such as Lexis Nexis can often turn up information about well known persons in any field.

  • Have they written widely in the field.

  • Search by author in Academic Search Premier or one of the specialized indexes available on the Library's Index page to find journal articles. Check World Cat for monographs they have written.

  • Is their work reviewed or commented on by others.

  • Search their name as a subject in Academic Search Premier or one of the specialized indexes available on the Library's Index page to find journal articles.

Purpose of the Site

  • To Inform:
    Educational institutions, government agencies, publishers, and some individuals create sites that are intended to provide a broad range of useful information and services rather than promote a particular idea or product.

  • To Influence:
    Organizations or individuals may offer sites advocating a particular view of an issue. Their purpose is to persuade you to join their point of view. They often include policy papers, reports, and other valuable material, as well as opinion, but they seldom include opposing opinions or reports. These sites can be very useful as long as you recognize their bias (even when it agrees with your own).

  • To Sell:
    Business sites, known as dot coms, promote and sell products. Today, these sites may provide all kinds of services and information to attract readers. However, this information is seldom as balanced or as complete as is needed for academic research, unless you are researching the company itself.

  • Many sites have an overview page called: About This Site or a Site Map. A Site Index can help you find specific information quickly.

  • Look at the domain letters at the end of the URL to identify the type of site: .edu educational sites, .gov government sites, .mil military, .com business, .net network access companies, .org non-profit organizations, .int international organization

TIPS FOR WEB SITES


"On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog."
from the July 5, 1993 New Yorker cartoon
by Peter Steiner.

Many sites have an overview page called: About This Site or a Site Map. A Site Index can help you find specific information quickly. Look at the domain letters at the end of the URL to identify the type of site.

  • .edu educational sites
  • .gov government sites
  • .mil military
  • .com business
  • .net network access companies
  • .org non-profit organizations
  • .int international organization

>> Sample sites for evaluation

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