Thing 6 – Evaluating Information Found on the Web

Reasons to Evaluate

We use the information we’ve found on the Internet or Web for a variety of purposes. Sometimes we use it for entertainment, recreation, or casual conversation. When we use the information for research, we have to be sure the information is reliable and authoritative.

Evaluate

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That puts us in the position of having to verify information and make judgments about whether it is appropriate. We need to think critically, as opposed to using information just because it’s available to us or published on the Web.

In some situations, we don’t have to do that work on our own. Some information is screened before it comes to us. When we retrieve information from an academic or research library, either by using the Web or by visiting in person, we rely on professional librarians who have evaluated and selected the material. Information in a database that’s been prepared by a scholarly or commercial organization is often evaluated and checked for correctness before it’s made available. Articles and reports published by scholarly organizations, research labs, and government agencies often go through an independent review process before being published. Some librarians and other information specialists have established virtual libraries on the Web where they review, evaluate, and list reliable sources of information on the World Wide Web.

Here are some of those virtual libraries:

Thinking critically about information and its sources means being able to separate facts from opinions. We have to be able to verify information and know its source, we have to determine whether the facts are current, and we need to know why someone offered the data at all. After considering these issues, we can decide whether the information is appropriate for our purposes.

Goal

When we access or retrieve something on the World Wide Web we need to be able to decide whether the information is useful, reliable, or appropriate for our purposes.

Guidelines
Who is the author or institution?

    • If the author is a person, does the resource give biographical information about him or her, including any of the following: educational and other credentials, position, institutional affiliation, and street address? (Sometimes an e-mail address is not enough.)
    • If the author is an institution, is there information provided about it, including the purpose and history of the institution, in addition to a street address?
    • Have you seen the author’s or institution’s name cited in other sources or bibliographies?
    • The URL can give clues to the authority of a source. A tilde ~ in the URL usually indicates that it is a personal page rather than part of an institutional Web site. Also, make a mental note of the domain section of the URL, as follows:
.edu educational (anything from serious research to zany student pages)
.gov governmental (usually dependable)
.com commercial (may be trying to sell a product)
.net network (may provide services to commercial or individual customers)
.org organization (non-profit institutions; may be biased)
  • If the page is part of a larger institution’s Web site, does the institution appear to filter the information that appears at its site? Is the information provided put through some screening process before it is put on the Web?

How current is the information?

  • Is there a date on the Web page that indicates when the page was placed on the Web?
  • Is it clear when the page was last updated?
  • Is some of the information obviously out-of-date?
  • Does the page creator mention how frequently the material is updated?

Who is the audience?

  • Is the Web page intended for the general public, scholars, practitioners, children, etc.? Is this clearly stated?
  • Does the Web page meet the needs of its stated audience?

Is the content accurate and objective?

  • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, or institutional biases?
  • Is the content intended to be a brief overview of the information or an in-depth analysis?
  • If the information is opinion is this clearly stated?
  • If there is information copied from other sources is this acknowledged? Are there footnotes if necessary?

What is the purpose of the information?

  • Is the purpose of the information to inform, explain, persuade, market a product, or advocate a cause?
  • Is the purpose clearly stated?
  • Does the resource fulfill the stated purpose?

Tips

Look for the name of the author or institution at the top or bottom of a Web page.
Go to the home page for the site that hosts the information to find out about the organization.
To find further information about the institution or author use a search engine to see what related information is available on the Web.
Use the Google Groups or another tool to search archives of Usenet articles to find other information about the author or institution, and in the case of an individual to see what sorts of articles they’ve posted on Usenet.
Check the top and bottom of a Web page for the date the information was last modified or updated. If no date is present you can sometimes determine when the file holding the document or item was last modified. Most Web servers are configured to send that information along to a client.

Information on the World Wide Web About Evaluating Resources

There are several good resources on the World Wide Web to help you evaluate information. They give in-depth information about critically examining documents that appear on the Web or in print, and they offer other guidelines and suggestions for assessing Internet and Web resources.

Guides to evaluating library resources:

Brief guide to evaluating resources on the World Wide Web:

Guides to evaluating resources on the World Wide Web:

Activities

  1. Re-read the criteria for evaluating information on the Web, and  then read How to Critically Analyze Information Sources, References Services Division of the Cornell University Library.
  2. Do a search on the topic “violent crime” in each of the following. Comment on the differences in the results:  Google news,  Google ScholarWikipedia
  3. Complete the exercises in  “Evaluating Web Sites,”. Post answers in your blog
  4. Complete the exercises  “Evaluating Web Sites Exercise,”. Post answers in your blog

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2 Responses to “Thing 6 – Evaluating Information Found on the Web”

  1. The four search engines we used to search on violent crime all yielded very different results. In Google UncleSam the results were more towards the statistics of violent crime. Google News gave me results regarding murders of certain people, the most dangerous city in the US etc. Google Scholar gave me papers written by either students or professors on violent crime and how to stop it. And obviously Wikipedia just gave me it’s definition of violent crime.

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