A Guide to Library Research: Evaluating World Wide Web Information
Unlike most print resources such as magazines and journals that go through a filtering process (e.g. editing, peer review), information on the World Wide Web (Web) and the Internet is mostly unfiltered. So using and citing information found over the Web is a little like swimming on a beach without a lifeguard. The largest growing segement of the WWW is commercial sites. Many offer a great deal of information about their products or areas of expertise. Much of the information can be helpful and reliable but remember a company is in business to make money and they don't do that by suggesting you use another company's product or process. The same can be true of other organizations that produce information on the WWW, e.g. NRA, Sierra Club, etc. The following guide and checklist provide a starting point for evaluating World Wide Web sites and other Internet information.
Essential Web Document elements
One of the first things to check a Web document for are its three main elements: head, body and footer:
Within each of these pieces you should be able to determine the following vital elements for evaluating information:
If you are unable to locate all of these elements on an individual Web page, try manipulating the address to dig deeper into the Web site. For example, if no sponsoring institution or author information was found at the URL:
- * Author or contact person
- usually located in the footer
- * Link to sponsoring institution
- usually located either in header or footer
- * Institution
- usually located in either header or footer
- * Date of creation or revision
- usually located in footer
- * Intended audience
- determined by examining the body
- * Purpose of the information, i.e. does it inform, explain, or persuade
- determined by examining the body
Then, try opening the URL minus the "riot.html" filename, e.g.:
If you still don't find the information you need, try taking off the next element, i.e. the directory name. Directory names are located after slashes ("/") and do not contain any extensions, e.g. .html. You can "back-up" the address in this manner until you reach the stem address which usually includes the machine name, institution identifier, and domain name, ".edu" for example, is Rutgers.
Once you identify all the elements, you can evaluate the document using the guideline listed in the "WWW Evaluation Checklist" below.
WWW Evaluation Checklist AUTHOR
- Who is the author of the piece?
- Is the author the original creator of the information?
- Does he or she list his or her occupation, years of experience, position, or education?
If so, list:
- With this information or lack of it, do you feel this person is qualified to write on the given topic?
LOCAL INSTITUTION OR HOME PAGE
- What institution (company, government, university, etc.) or Internet provider supports this information?
- If it is a commercial Internet provider, does the author appear to have any affiliation with a larger institution?
- If it is an institution, is it a national institution?
- Does the institution appear to filter the information appearing under its name?
- Does the author's affiliation with this particular institution appear to bias the information?
- When was the information created or last updated?
- What appears to be the purpose for this information? (explain)
- Inform, e.g. new information, current events, etc.
- Explain, e.g. describe a process, teach, etc.
- Persuade, e.g. change your mind, convince you to buy, etc.
- 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.
Parts of this checklist were adapted from: The Savvy Student's Guide to Library Research. Judy Pask, Roberta Kramer, Scott Mandernack. Purdue University, Undergraduate Library: W. Lafayette, IN. 1993.