Evaluating Internet Sources for Research Paper Writing

A Special Note on Evaluating Internet Sources

Be especially careful when you evaluate Web sites because they can be difficult to authenticate and validate. Unlike most print resources such as magazines and journals that go through a filtering process (e.g., editing, peer review), information on the web is mostly unfiltered. What does this mean for you? Here’s the scoop: using and citing information found on Web sites is a little like swimming on a beach without a lifeguard.
For instance, Web sites may be published anonymously. This means you can’t evaluate the writer or writers. Also, the sites can be updated and revised without notification.
Further, they may vanish without warning. This makes it difficult to evaluate their reliability.
Once you’ve determined that you are dealing with an online source, check the web document for its three main elements: header, body, and footer. Within each of these pieces, you should be able to determine the following vital elements for evaluating information:
1. Author or contact person (usually located in the footer) As you evaluate the selection, ask yourself:
”¢Â Â   Who is the author of the piece?
”¢Â Â   Is the author the original creator of the information?
”¢Â Â   Does the author list his or her occupation, years of experience, position, or education?
”¢Â Â   With this information-or lack of it-do you feel this person is qualified to write on the given topic?
”¢Â Â   Where does the online source come from? Knowing the source of a site can help you evaluate its purpose and potential bias.

You can often find clues to the origin of an online source in its address. Look for the suffix to identify the source. Here are the common URL suffixes you’ll encounter:

Common URI Suffixes’
Suffix Meaning
com commercial (business or company)
edu education (academic site)
gov government
int international organization
mil military organization
net Internet administration
org other organizations, including nonprofit,
nonacademic, and nongovernmental groups
sci special knowledge newsgroup

A .com is going to have a different slant from a university, for example. It’s likely that the .com will want to sell you a product or a service (since it is a business), while the university is probably seeking to disseminate knowledge. As a result, knowing the source of the site can help you evaluate its purpose and potential bias.
2. Link to local home page (usually located either in header or footer) and institution (usually located in either header or footer). As you evaluate the selection, ask yourself:
”¢Â Â Â  What institution (Like company, government, or university) or Internet provider supports this information?
”¢Â Â Â  If it is a commercial Internet provider, does the author appear to have any affiliation with a larger institution?
”¢Â Â Â  If it is an institution, is it a national institution?
”¢Â Â Â  Does the institution appear to filter the information appearing under its name?
”¢Â Â Â  Does the author’s affiliation with this particular institution appear to bias the information?
”¢Â Â  When was the information created or last updated?
4.    Intended audience (determined by examining the body)
5.    Purpose of the information, that is, does it inform, explain, or persuade (determined by examining the body)
6.    Access, that is, how did you find the site? Was it linked to a reputable site? If you found the site through a search engine, that only means that the site has the words in the topic you are researching prominently placed or used with great frequency. If you found the site by browsing through a subject directory, that may mean only that someone at that site registered it with that directory. If you found it through an advertisement, it is not likely to be reliable.
Given all the information you determined from above, is this piece of information appropriate for your topic? If yes, explain your decision and any reservations you would tell someone else using this information.
Below are some additional links for evaluating web material.
”¢Â Â Â  Critical Evaluation of Resources. Margaret Phillips, UC Berkeley Library. Suggestions for evaluating a range of resources, including books, articles, and Web sites. Covers suitability, authority, other indicators, reference sources, and provides links.
”¢Â Â Â  Evaluate Web Resources. Detailed checklist under: Introduction, Source, Site/Article, Content, Structure/ Navigation, Links, Site Integrity/Access.
”¢Â Â Â  Evaluating Credibility of Information on the Internet. Ronald B. Standler.
”¢Â Â Â  Evaluating Information found on the Internet. Elizabeth Kirk, Johns Hopkins University.
”¢Â Â Â  Evaluating Information: Some questions to help you judge Online Information. Jacob Hespeler Library.
”¢Â Â  Thinking Critically about World Wide Web Resources. Esther Grassian, UCLA College Library.
In summary, all sources are not equally valid. Be sure to carefully and completely evaluate every source you find before you decide whether to use it in your research paper. Weak or inaccurate sources can seriously damage your credibility as a writer and thinker.

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