Evaluating Web Sites
SCANNING THE HOME PAGE
Unlike most print resources, there is no standardization or screening process for documents to be on the World Wide Web. ANYBODY CAN PUT ANY INFORMATION ON THE WEB. There is no requirement that the information be accurate. But there are CLUES you can gain. While not every reliable web site uses the same structure, many reliable web pages tend to have a header, a body, and a footer:
Within each of these pieces you should be able to determine important vital pieces of information to determine the integrity of a web site:
Author or contact person - usually located in the footer
Link to local home page (usually of institution or author) - usually located in the header or footer
Institution - usually located in header or footer
Date of creation or revision - usually located in the footer
Intended audience - determined by examining the body
Purpose of the Information - determined by examining the body
Sometimes depending on what page you find from a search engine, you may need to find the home page first. Find any link on the page you are on that says something such as "Home" or "Back to." The link will usually be towards the top or the bottom of that particular page.
The Five Areas to Look for: Accuracy, Authority, Objectivity, Currency, and Coverage.
These are the five areas you should use to keep you on your toes as to what the web site is all about. Start with the Header, Body, and Footer of the home page first and then click on links that clue you in. Examples of such links include About, The Author, What's New. In general, I would always advise clicking on these links first before immediately responding to links on a page that may have favorable information you need. Just because a web page may have statistics on acid rain, for example, if you find that they come from an a conservative think tank that believes the Clean Water Act should be abolished, you may be prepared to question the objectivity and presentation of those statistics.
Evaluate the Site Carefully, Paying Attention to the Following:
1. Accuracy - How reliable and error free is the information? Who is the sponsoring institution (government, University, commercial company)? How credible or well known is the sponsoring institution? Does the information consist of documented facts or personal opinion?
2. Authority - Is the Author or source of the information identified and his/her qualifications in evidence? Does the site exhibit proper grammar, spelling, and literary composition?
3. Objectivity - What is the site’s purpose: to inform, explain, persuade or sell? Is the information presented with a minimum of personal bias?
4. Currency - Is the content of the work up-to-date? Is the date of creation or most recent revision date clearly shown?
5. Coverage - Is it a comprehensive coverage of the subject matter? Is the information relevant or useful for your needs?
Reading the URL:
Another element you should look out for when evaluating a web site, is the very structure of its own address.
1) What is the domain? (the three or two character extension at the end of the main institution's address, which is the address before the first single slash on the right):
http://www.amazon.com/ http://www.epa.gov/ http://www.berkeley.edu/
A .com is a commercial web site, meaning the institution is a corporate or small business entity.
A .gov indicates the sponsoring institution is a government body, which has the responsibility to provide reliable information.
A .org is a nonprofit organization that sometimes can be quite strong in their beliefs, other times can actually be a good institution providing lots of useful information and sometimes in an objective manner. Most often, though the web site is more often selling its ideas and therefore, can be more biased.
A .edu is coming from an educational institution (usually four years and more). Many educational websites will have reliable information, however you need to read a .edu web site beyond the first slash to make sure (see below).
The domain can immediately say something about the institution, however be prepared. Sometimes, some institutions will use a different domain (example: a law firm that provides services to nonprofit organization uses: http://www.npdomain.org )
2) What do you know about the sponsoring institution?
Could provide a clue about an organization's integrity as well as maybe its bias. The name of the institution is usually what appears after the server (usually www) and before the domain (.com, .edu, etc.):
3) Is it a personal web page?
Personal web pages are usually clearly marked by having a user name somewhere within the address. Often the username of the person is followed by a ~ (a tilde symbol).
The above address clearly marks that the web page is by a student, however, not all educational institutions will have such a clear folder marked such as "students." (In fact "users" is more often used). But the ~ symbol is much more universal in warning you that it is a personal home page and usually not by an expert. Professors and other academics usually do not have a ~ before their user name.
A personal home page can also be indicated by an Internet Services Provider or web page provider. Watch out for addresses that have the words "members," any relating to a "home page" or a number used as part of the address. Sometimes an institution or company may have such an address, and sometimes graduate students or even professors (such as part-time teachers) can keep their information on such web sites as well. However, most often such pages are usually personal web pages reflecting the opinions of a person who may or may not be an expert, or an obscure organization.
Understanding types of web sites out there
Think of the World Wide Web as a newsstand and you may understand that information of all sorts can be found here. Perhaps a few scholarly journals may be there, but there are lots of tabloids out there as well. Then think beyond a newsstand and think of all sorts of information you can get in print-- from a booksktore, a library, the fliers outside a grocery store, the flier on your car's windshield, the letter you receive by an activist organization asking for a donation. The very same information that can come from any of these forms can be on web pages that turn up from your search on the Web.
For tips on recognizing the types of institutions and the types of web sites that are produced, go to the following web site:
Evaluating Web Resources
This web page provides excellent worksheets for recognizing different types of web sites: Advocacy, Business/Marketing, News, Informational, and Personal. To look at these worksheets, scroll down to the box and look at the options on the left, under the heading, "Original Evaluation Checklists.".
Here are the brief definitions of these types of web sites:
"An Advocacy Web Page is one sponsored by an organization attempting to influence public opinion (that is, one trying to sell ideas). The URL address of the page frequently ends in .org (organization)."
"A Business/Marketing Web Page is one sponsored by a commercial enterprise (usually it is a page trying to promote or sell products). The URL address of the page frequently ends in .com (commercial)."
"A News Web Page is one whose primary purpose is to provide extremely current information. The URL address of the page usually ends in .com (commercial)."
"An Informational Web Page is one whose purpose is to present factual information. The URL Address frequently ends in .edu or .gov, as many of these pages are sponsored by educational institutions or government agencies.
Examples: Dictionaries, thesauri, directories, transportation schedules, calendars of events, statistical data, and other factual information such as reports, presentations of research, or information about a topic."
"A Personal Web Page is one published by an individual who may or may not be affiliated with a larger institution. Although the URL address of the page may have a variety of endings (e.g. .com, .edu, etc.), a tilde (~) is frequently embedded somewhere in the URL."
Below is another good web site that helps you understand the difficulty of distinguishing research sites on the Web as easily as we can do in print.
Evaluating Quality on the Net
An excellent paper about evaluating quality on the Internet, especially comparing print documents and to their likely equivalents online. Read from the question, "How Should We Look at Internet Information?" down to right before "Generic Criteria for Evaluation."