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Web Evaluation, or: Why Can't I Believe Everything I Read on the Internet?

You've got your homework assignment, the computer is up and the browser is ready. Key in your search terms and - almost before you can blink -- the search engine returns with a list of sites that could have information to help you finish this paper.

The temptation is strong to just click on the first web site listed, scan it for what you need, and apply the information to that blank page so you can get on with your life. After all, it's on the Internet so it must be good, right?

Wrong!

  • Anyone can publish anything on the World Wide Web.
  • There are no Internet standards for truth, accuracy or reliability.
  • Each day, new commercial or personal web sites appear online and try to sell you something.
  • Web sites are dynamic, meaning that they can -- and do -- change frequently.

Question (Internet) Authority

It's up to you to figure out where information came from, who the author is, or if the site is trying to persuade you to believe something that isn't accurate or true.

What should you do?
What should you look for in a web site? We'll have to answer that question by asking a few of our own. Here's a list of what you need to watch for.

  • Accuracy
    • Who wrote the page or put the information on the site?
    • Can you contact this person or organization?
    • Is the information on it helpful?
  • Authority
    • Are credentials provided? is the person responsible for the information an expert or qualified to write about the topic?
    • What educational organization or institution publishes this information?
    • Does the material inform? explain?
    • Is this information appropriate for your topic?
  • Bias
    • What are the goals of the web page?
    • Is the information is straightforward?
    • Is the information provided on the page free?
    • Are there opinions about the topic on the page?
    • Do the links lead you to quality sites or do they go to pages that try to sell you something or persuade you to believe something?
  • Currency
    • Is the information up to date? is there a date on the page to indicate this? if not, will this make a difference to your project?
    • Are the links dead?

You may have a valuable web page if:

  • ... you have the names of the author and the organization publishing the information, and if there's a way to contact both;
  • ... the author is an expert in the field and if the organization publishing the web page is an educational institution (.edu), a government agency (.gov), or an organization (.org or .net);
  • ... the information is presented without opinions and with a minimum of advertising; and
  • ... the page is updated (if you need current information) and the links work well.

If you check out the web page and don't get those answers, move on.

Web Page Evaluation Forms
Evaluation forms are available online to help you answer key questions about a web site. Check them out to see which one works best for you.

Want to Learn More?
Start by checking out these sites. They show you how to evaluate web sites when you're using the Internet for research.

  • The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (or, Why It's a Good Idea to Evaluate Web Sources)
  • NetCheck from the Education Society of Alberta. Answer the questions about the web site online, giving the title of the web page, who sponsors it, how you know you can trust the source, etc., and then submit the information. A web page with all the details will be on the screen for you to print out and review.
  • Thumbs Up! Thumbs Down! Wilmette Public Schools has a page devoted to information on web site evaluation.
  • "But - I found it on the Internet!" is an article by Alexander Colhoun, staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor, on why you need to learn how to check out web sites.

OK, it's Latin and it's old, but important to remember:
caveat lector -- reader beware!

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