Library 102 Third Class Session
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“You can find anything and everything on the Web!” is probably a true statement. But it is also equally true that if you are trying to do research on the Web, you will find a lot of ‘stuff” on the Web that won’t be very helpful for your research project. Because the Web is so vast and because anyone can publish virtually anything they want on the Web, web evaluation is necessary.
The following guidelines have been developed to help you evaluate the Web sites you want to use for research projects:
Web Evaluation Guidelines
Source or Affiliation:
A comparison can be made here between publishers of print materials such as books and magazines and publishers of Web pages. Book publishers that want to establish a reputation for integrity must adhere to ethical and editorial guidelines. For example, a University Press must adhere to strict standards of scholarship to earn a reputation for producing books well regarded in the world of scholarship. Likewise, a university web site may produce web pages with high standards of scholarship.
Hints for determining Source or Affiliation:
- Where does this information come from?
- Who Put it there?
- If an institution is responsible, what type of institution is it? Is it a college, university, company, or government agency, or non-profit?
To answer the above questions, you can look near the top of the web page or at the end of the page. There may also a link to the “Home page” for the site. You might also want to truncate (erasing the last part of the URL backwards until you come to a slash mark) the URL until you find a statement of responsibility. Remember that the designated ‘webmaster” may only be responsible for the technology behind the page and not responsible for the content of the page.
Another clue might be to examine the URL (address of the web page). The URL gives the domain name for the sponsor of the page. You can try the web site WHOIS to determine the page's owner. The top-level domain can show the type of organization that published the site and the country where it was published. The top-level domain name assignments are no longer as narrowly defined as they once were so even this will not give you definitive information.
A good example of Source or Affiliation is the Oncolink site: http://www.oncolink.org/
A strength and/or a weakness of the Web is that anyone can become an author without the benefit of an editor or the reputation of a publisher behind his/her work. Traditionally, authority is judged by the author’s background, experience, education, and credentials.
Hints for determining Authority:
· Who is the author?
· Is the author the creator of the information?
· Does the author list his/her credentials, position, education, and/or experience?
· Is the author an expert on the topic he/she is writing about? Or is the person a hobbyist or merely stating a personal opinion?
· Can you contact the author or institution with the information given? Is the e-mail address or street address given? Is telephone or fax information supplied?
· If a non-profit organization is the author, is the organization known as a source of reliable information on the particular topic?
To answer the above questions, you can again look at the top and bottom of the page. There is often a hyperlink to more information about the person or institution. There is often a link “About Us” that usually presents the mission statement for the organization. There may also be a link to other information published by the author or organization. Again you can try truncation to go back to the home page for the web site. A URL with a tilde (~ ) in it usually indicates a personal page instead of official pages of a site.
If you cannot find information about the author or organization from the particular web page, you could use a search engine to try to find additional information from other sites. You could also check library book catalogs and periodical indexes to see if the author has published any other works on this or related topics.
A good example of Authority is found on the page: Brown Bag Chat: Exercise, Nutrition & Cancer
IF YOU CANNOT VERIFY THE AUTHORITY OF THE INFORMATION, DO NOT USE IT AS A SOURCE IN YOUR RESEARCH PROJECT.
Purpose and Intended Audience of the Source:
In books the author states his purpose in the preface, and the reader can get an idea of the specific topics to be covered in the table of contents. Sometimes in web pages there is a mission statement for the web page, but often the purpose will have to be surmised. A “site map” is comparable to a table of contents.
Hints for determining Purpose and Intended Audience:
· Is there a mission statement indicating the purpose and intended audience? And if so, how well does this page fulfill its goal?
· Is the author trying to sell, persuade, inform, explain, or to present research for other professional, or to vent a particular point of view, or is it possibly satire?
· Is the page designed for the novice, expert, professional, or hobbyist?
Again you should look for an “About Us” link. If the top-level domain is .com it may be a commercial site with the purpose of selling a service or product so be sure to use critical thinking skills when reading the claims and information on the page.
These two sites demonstrate differences in Purpose and Intended Audience of the Source:
Oncolink site: http://www.oncolink.upenn.edu/
The Onion site: http://www.theonion.com/
Objectivity of the Source:
Objectivity of a source means that it is not influenced by emotions or personal prejudices. Objectivity refers to the absence of bias.
Hints for determining Objectivity:
· If the topic of the page is very controversial such as abortion, gun control, legalization of marijuana, are both sides of the issues presented and at the same level of coverage?
· Is advertising included on the page or is the page partially sponsored by a commercial entity?
· Is the page truly informational or is it really an advertisement pretending to be informational?
If there is advertising or corporate sponsorship, you should look for a link explaining the policy and guidelines for acceptance of funding. There should also be a link to the corporate sponsors explaining their mission and policies and extent of funding.
There should be a clear differentiation between the advertisement and the informational content of the site.
Sometimes, but not always, the type of top-level domain will be helpful, for example, an .edu site indicating an institution of higher education.
The use of inflammatory language/graphics is a warning sign for bias.
A good example of inflammatory language and bias is Martin Luther King Jr. - a True Historical Examination: http://martinlutherking.org/
A good example of Objectivity of the Source is ProCon.org .
Currency of the Source:
We tend to believe that everything on the Web is the latest information and is instantly updated, but that is not true for many Web pages.
Hints for determining Currency:
· When was the Web page originally created and when was it last updated?
· Was all the information on the page created at the same time or does some material pre-date the web page and how can you know?
· How important is it for your topic to have the latest information? For example, for a medical or legal research topic currency would be more important than for many topics in literature or history.
· Are the links on the page current or are there many broken links?
Either at the top or the bottom of the page there should be a copyright date given and a statement such as “Last Updated” “Latest Revision” , but the “last updated” date can be misleading because, depending on the software used to create the page, this date can be recent if only superficial changes were made to the page, for instance , a spelling correction, and does not really reflect content currency.
If statistical data is cited on the page, look for information about the original source and publication date for the compilation of the statistics.
If the page cites reference sources such as books or journal articles in a bibliography, look to see that these sources are current.
It may be possible in the browser you are using to view source information that will show the date the page was created and updated if it does not show on the page itself.
A good example of Currency is http://www.cnn.com/
Completeness, Coverage, Comparison and Relevance of the Source:
Coverage and completeness refer to the range of topics included and the depth of the coverage. Comparison means how does this information compare to other information you know from personal experience or from other research. You may find excellent information and data ,but it may not pertain, that is, be relevant, to your topic.
Hints for determining completeness, coverage, comparison and relevance:
· Is the page you are viewing “under construction”?
· Is the page you are viewing grammatical and are there spelling errors? If so, you might assume the same level of attention was paid to the content of the site.
· Has the information been copied from another page? If so, has the original source been cited?
· Has the information possibly been quoted out of context or is the full document provided?
· Is the coverage superficial? If so, are there links to additional information and do they work?
· How does this information compare with other research? If it totally disagrees with everything else you have discovered, more research is indicated or it may be a bogus, biased or hoax site. For example: Pop! The First Human Male Pregnancy http://www.malepregnancy.com/
· Does it apply to your research question? If the information is found to be creditable, it still may not apply to your thesis statement for your research project and you may have located the page because of the key words you used in your search strategy
· Are you being swayed by the design and presentation of the page rather than by the scope and depth of the information included?
· Is the page easy to navigate or might the same information be found more easily on another site or more quickly in a reference book?
The above criteria should be applied to each web page you decide to use as an information resource for any research project.
An example of MLA format is given at the OWL (online writing lab) site at Purdue University. This example reflects the changes in the new 7th edition MLA Handbook :
The Purdue OWL . Purdue U Writing Lab, 2008. Web. 27 Dec. 2008.
Purdue OWL. "MLA Formatting and Style Guide." The Purdue OWL . Purdue U Writing Lab, 10 May 2008. Web. 15 Nov. 2008.