Library 103 Third Session
| Library 103 Syllabus |
Introduction to the Web
“ 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 virtually 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
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.
- 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, government agency, or non-profit organization?
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. 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. You can try the web site WHOIS to determine the page's owner.
A good example of Source or Affiliation is the Oncolink site: http://www.oncolink.upenn.edu/
A strength and/or a weakness of the Web is that anyone can become and authors without the benefit of an editor or the reputation of a publisher behind their work. Traditionally, authority is judged by the author’s background, experience, education, and credentials.
- 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.
- 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 professionals, or to vent a particular point of view?
- Is the page designed for the novice, experts, professionals, or hobbyists?
- Is the age level appropriate?
Is the site using irony, satire, or parody?
Irony - when the real meaning is opposite of what is being said
Satire- using irony to expose human folly or vice especially criticism of a person or an institution
Classic works of satire Candide by Voltaire and Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
Parody - an imitation in order to ridicule or to make a caricature of
An example of a parody is Uncyclopedia
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.
- Does the author or the institutional affiliation of the author have an obvious bias? For example, a pro-choice ( Planned Parenthood Federation of America ) page or a pro-life ( National Right to Life ) page will present very different views of abortion.
- Is the institution well-known for a particular point of view? For example, The National Rifle Association ..
Another example of a biased site is: Campaign to End the Death Penalty http://www.nodeathpenalty.org
- 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? If so, this could indicate a conflict of interest.
- 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 or graphics is a warning sign for bias.
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.
- 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 update 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 that the topics are covered. 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 to your topic.
- Is the page you are viewing “under construction”?
- 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.
- 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?
A good example of a biased, inflammatory site is: Martin Luther King Jr.: a True Historical Examination http://www.martinlutherking.org/
An example of a hoax site is: Pop! The First Human Male Pregnancy http://www.malepregnancy.com/
Another example of a hoax site is: Republic of Molossia http://www.molossia.org/
The above criteria should be applied to each web page you decide to use as an information resource for any research project.
Comparison of Web and Print Sources
Often students waste a lot of time searching for information on the Web, when it may be more efficient to find a book or ask a librarian for help. Many students as well as their teachers seem to assume that any worthwhile information is on the web. But the problem may be finding an authoritative, trustworthy site. A book in a library has been selected first by the publisher and then according to the selection policy of the library. But virtually anyone can publish anything on the Web, making web evaluation extremely important.
Also the currency of web sites varies tremendously. Often statistics on the Web are no more current than those in books because they have been compiled and released at the same time. They may be available earlier, but they may be no more current than the printed source.
It may be quicker and simpler to use a standard reference source such as an encyclopedia , dictionary or almanac than the Web.
Government documents can be defined as anything produced by a government entity or with government funds. Just some of the documents available from the approximate 6,000 agencies of the federal government are as follows:
Executive Orders and Speeches by the President
Freedom of Information Act Documents
Congressional Record and Hearings and Reports
Statistical Data from the Bureau of the Census
Supreme Court Opinions
The GAO (Government Accountability Office www.gao.gov) is known as "the investigative arm of Congress" and "the Congressional watchdog." It oversees the spending of tax dollars, conducts audits and investigations, and issues in- depth reports on its findings.
According to Leslie F. Stebbins in Student Guide to Research in the Digital Age , "scholars generally view government publications as reliable and objective, but in some cases information might be distorted by political agendas, bias, or the particular goals of the issuing agency."
Government Documents Evaluation Guidelines
Is the document published by an official government web site?
Hint: Is the top-level domain .gov or .mil?
How does the content compare with the content of other sources such as book published by reputable publishers?
What is the motivation of the author or organization/agency?
Hint: What was the reason behind the document being compiled?
Who is the audience for the document?
What was the social, political, economic background for the document?
Is the document biased?
Hint: Is there an attempt at objectivity?
Are multiple points of view presented?
If not, is the viewpoint well substantiated?
What is the authority of the author?
Hint: Does the author have credentials appropriate for the research?
Has the author written other publications on this topic?
Does the author have ties to agencies, businesses, institutions that provide a conflict of interest?
Are there significant omissions of major facts or concepts?
Statistical Information Evaluation Guidelines
The U. S. Government is the largest collector and publisher of statistical data in the world. According to Leslie F. Stebbins in Student Guide to Research in the Digital Age , "though Census statistics and other government-collected statistics are not without flaws, researchers continue to rely on these data because they are often the most accurate numbers available."
Who collected the data?
Hint: Was it a person, an agency, or a group?
Does the group have a particular agenda?
Who Analyzed the data?
Hint: Is it a group using government data and doing their own analysis?
If so, does the group have a particular agenda?
What process was used to collect the data?
Hint: How was the data collected?
Was the sampling representative - a random sampling or a controlled sampling?
Did the survey depend on volunteers to offer information?
How current is the data?
Hint: What is the date range?
What is the lag time between collection of data and publishing of the data?
Is the data relevant for your particular needs?
Date Last Updated:11/16/11
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