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Web Searching, Sleuthing and Sifting
Web Searching, Sleuthing and Sifting

Lesson 2a:
Evaluating What You Find (Tips for Selecting Resources)

Why evaluate?

To recap from lesson one, the Web is a self-publishing medium; this means anyone with a computer, a modem and Internet access can publish ("mount") a web page or site. Anyone can publish anything -- and remember, there is no such entity as the "Internet Police."

How do I know what to look for?

Assuming that you find something that seems as if it might fit your information need, you may wish to consider the following points to evaluate the resource:
  • Who sponsored or created the site? Why? (for what purpose?)
    • If you know this, you can make intelligent assessments about any potential bias

    • (for example: if the NRA publishes a site on Gun Control, the point of view or bias for or against the issue would be different, perhaps, to an article published in a web site with a focus on Parenting)
    • Also related  to bias or perspective, are issues of authenticity and credibility -- is the information true, accurate and believable?

    • (for example, usage statistics for a new drug might be more reliable coming from a government web site rather than those offered by its manufacturer)
    • A quick clue as to the source of a web site is the domain (in the url or "address")

    • (for example: .edu means educational or affiliated institution, .com means commercial enterprise (which may have a financial reason for promoting a product or site), .gov means government agency ,and .org means organization)
    • homepages of individuals are frequently identified by a ~ (tilde) sign in the url

    • (for example: (Note: many individuals have constructed very useful sites -- don't overlook *all* personal web sites)
    • Information about the publisher of the web site can usually be found at the top and/or bottom of the page

    • Be especially wary of sites in which the author or sponsoring organization is not clearly stated or there is no contact information provided
    • What is the reason for mounting the web site? remember that the motivation behind the site in part dictates the approach and tone of the content

    • (for example: to function as a resource? for public relations? to promote a cause? to show long-distance relatives wedding or baby pictures? as a teaching aide?)
  • Who is the intended audience?
    • Although not always true, often language is a good clue to the targeted audience. If you are looking for general information on a topic, a site written for professionals in the field or scholars may not be helpful. Similarly, if you are looking for the latest research on a topic, a consumer-oriented site will probably not provide it.
  •  Does it contain accurate information that is useful?
    • Now that you have ascertained that the site was mounted by a reputable organization, written in the level and language you need, you are well on your way to determining if the site is useful to you.

Additional considerations:

  •  When was the site last updated? Is that important to your topic?
    • Most well tended sites will clearly state when the content was last updated. Sometimes frequent updating is essential (for example, at news sites or where the information changes rapidly). Sometimes this is not a priority -- such as with online texts or historical information.
  • Would a traditional print source or specialized computer database be more appropriate for your needs?
    • If you are looking for academic research in particular, you may have better results searching in a database indexing articles published in professional journals -- in other words, information which has been reviewed by other professionals in the field.
  • Is the site easy to use?
    • If the site is difficult to navigate, it may be hard to extract any information. Some of the more annoying or cumbersome features include: new browser windows opening unexpectedly, annoying color schemes, tiny graphics for buttons, and flashing buttons and the use of frames (for page layout).

Tips for Selecting Resources

To summarize, be especially wary of a web site in which:
    • the identity of the creator or sponsoring body is not clearly stated
    • the page does not seem to be connected to an overall site (no header or footer information, no way to return to a "main" page)
    • it is not clear when the site was last updated.

Suggested Exercises:

As a follow-up to the Exercises in Lesson 2, evaluate three web sites which deal which the same subject matter. Be sure to include:
  • your search topic (including depth and scope)
  • the urls (addresses) of the web sites you choose
  • your evaluation criteria
  • your conclusions.
 Last updated: April 2, 1999

Copyright © 1998-99,  Angela Elkordy, Assistant Professor and Coordinator of Electronic Resources, The Sage Colleges,