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Library Guide 23
Is This Web Site Useful for My Research?

The Internet has made it possible for millions of people from across the world to spread their ideas, sell their products, or just communicate with millions of other people across the world. Access to information has now become easier than ever before. However, with so many web sites out there, current estimates put the number between 250 – 830 Million, it’s hard to tell which sites contain relevant and trustworthy information, and which do not. When viewing an Internet site, ask yourself the following basic questions to see if the site fits your criteria. If you are still unsure or need additional help, ask a professional librarian.

  • Beginning the search - How did I find this site?

Did a professor, librarian, or other educational professional recommend this site? If so, the site has probably been reviewed by someone who knows what kind of information you might need. By no means should you stop there and assume that the site is relevant. However, you are probably on the right track.

Did you find the site using an Internet Index? There are many web sites, books, and other resources that review and recommend Internet resources. One of the better sites is The Internet Public Library (www.ipl.org). In addition, there are many worthwhile subject guides on the Internet, mainly from academic, public library and government sources. These so-called "gateway sites" are an effective way to begin your search.

Did you find the site using an Internet search engine? Internet search engines allow one to search for Internet sites throughout the entire web. However, a search engine is an automated tool, and with such a huge amount of information to cover, it can not distinguish between what is relevant and irrelevant, what is new and what is outdated, or what is objective and what is biased. It can only return sites that include the words or phrases you searched for. Some search engines include Excite (www.excite.com), Hotbot (www.hotbot.com), Lycos (www.lycos.com), and Yahoo! (www.yahoo.com).

  • Authorship – Who created this page?

What type of organization does this page come from? The type of organization a web site comes from may indicate the purpose of the page. At the top level of a domain name (www.yahoo.com) the organizational type is indicated.

.EDU means that it is coming from an educational source such as a college or school. A .EDU tag usually means that there is an educational purpose to the site, although many students and faculty have personal pages on university servers. Therefore, you should not take .EDU to automatically mean that it is suitable for your research.

.COM means that it is from a business. This should indicate to you that there may be a profit motive behind the site (They are trying to sell you something), although that is not always the case. Most online news sources are .COM and these may be relevant and useful to your research. Make sure that when using these sites that the advertising, if any, is kept separate from the content, and that this site does not let advertisers determine content.

.ORG indicates that it is from a non-profit organization. Some of these sites are biased and some are not. All that .ORG indicates is that the organization is non-profit. Many public libraries and cultural institutions are .ORG, but so are many groups with agendas.

.GOV indicates that is a government source. The information from a .GOV is coming directly from a government body.

.NET indicates that it is coming from an Internet-related body such as an Internet service provider.

Who is the Author/source of information for the site? Most reputable web sites clearly indicate the author and/or organization responsible for its content. You should be able to judge the credibility of the author based on the credentials (qualifications, other works, biography, organizational affiliations, etc.) that are provided.

  • Timeliness – How up to date is the site?

When was the site last updated? Be aware that the Internet is an extremely dynamic medium. Without any notice, sites are added, deleted, changed, or otherwise altered. Likewise, there are many sites that have never been updated, leaving the information out of date or irrelevant. Most reputable site list the date of its last update. Many also include lists of what exactly on the site has been updated and when.

  • Content – What can I find on this site?

What is the scope of this site? A site may cover a great deal of information on your topic, only provide basic facts, or cover a narrow subdivision of your field. Just as if you were using a print source, if the site does not provide the appropriate coverage for your needs, you should look elsewhere.

Who is the intended audience of this site? As with books or journals, web sites are aimed at a particular group of people. You should be aware if the site is aimed at a popular, scholarly, or professional audience. Knowing to whom the site is intended can help you to judge if it is appropriate for your research.

How accurate is the information provided? If the information on the site is being presented as fact, the authors should be able to provide a method of substantiating those facts, just like the authors of a book or journal article. You should always check to see what references are being used to back up the facts presented. If no references are presented, that may be a sign that the information is inaccurate or is opinion rather than fact. When opinion is offered on a site, it should be taken as such. Information taken from USENET Newsgroups or other discussion groups or lists normally reflects the author’s opinions rather than fact.

  • Objectivity – What is the point of view of this site?

Does the author clearly indicate what the purpose of the site is? Producing a web site does not require the fact checking and review that publishing a scholarly article or book does. Therefore, most good sites make clear what their purpose is. You should know whether their aim is to provide information, provide opinion, sell a product, or entertain.

What bias, if any, is being projected? Many sites, particularly those related to controversial topics, are pushing a particular point of view. Just as in using print sources, you should be able to identify what the opinion of the author is and if the information provided is still credible for your research.

 

  • More Information – Where can I find additional hints, tutorials, or exercises in evaluating Internet sources?

     

The following sites and pamphlet provide additional details, hints, and exercises in evaluating information on the web.

California State University. Evaluating Information Web Tutorial.

LIU – C.W. Post. Evaluating Information & Citing Sources.

Rader, Hannelore, Reinhart, Billie, Thompson, Gary. Evaluating Information: A Basic Checklist. American Library Association, 1994.

SUNY – Albany. Evaluating Internet Resources.

UCLA. Flow of Information.

UCLA. Judging Quality on the Web.

Updated by I. Wang 3/2003
 
 
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