Library

Information Literacy Module IV: Evaluating Information 


Browsing Websites

While a wealth of high-quality information can be found through MCC's WebCat catalog and research databases, searching the Internet can often be useful as well . . . as long as it's done with a little suspicion and a discerning eye. (To learn more about using the Internet as a location to find sources, visit Modules 2 and 3.) If you've ever developed a homepage or fiddled with a wiki, you know it's easy to be published on the Internet. There are a lot of ridiculous websites out there, but there are a lot of reputable sites, too. All it takes to find the sources that are right for your research project is knowing what to look for. Just like you can tell a lot about a print source by looking at its documentation information, you can get a good feel for a website at a glance.

The URL: Whether it's www.sillycindysellssoupspoons.com or http://www.yale.edu/academics/research_centers, that clumsy web address can actually tell you a lot about a website. 

  • Domain: The domain (the abbreviation that comes after the "dot") can tell you whether the website is a government site (.gov), a site supported by an educational institution (.edu), a nonprofit site (.org), a commercial site (.com), or a personal site (.net). Be careful evaluating a website based on its domain. After all, there's no such thing as a good or a bad domain; instead, domains simply help us to understand the purpose of the site (like a .com site selling a product) or whether it's biased (like a .org site supporting a cause).
  • Personal names: If you notice a person's name or the fact that the site is hosted by a provider like geocities.com, keep in mind that the website is likely a personal site that is not supported by a reputable institution.

First Impressions: What does the page look like? Is it overly decorated, silly-looking, and choked with ads, or does it appear to be professionally developed and maintained? While not all polished pages are guaranteed to be reputable sources of information, the first impression is at least a way to weed out a definite "No."

Behind the Curtain: Just as it's helpful to look at the documentation information for a print source, considering who and what are behind the information on a website is important, too. The difference here is that most websites do not hand you a neat package of documentation information. Instead, you'll need to do a little investigation.

  • Purpose: Can you find a link titled "About Us" or "Our Mission"? These pages are good places to start when deciding whether the website contains the kind of information you're looking for and whether it's biased.
  • Author: A website may name its author outright and even provide the author's credentials. If all you find is a name, do a new search to see if you can learn anything about the author's expertise. If you can't find an author name, don't despair. Websites presented by organizations often take a united front; the information on the website is that of the organization, not of any one particular member or writer. If, on the other hand, the missing author name is just one glitch among many, you may want to reconsider this source.
  • Date: Publication dates on websites are just as if not more important than publication dates on print sources. One of the beauties of the Internet is that it's an efficient means of providing up-to-date information, so try to find sources that haven't been neglected.
Guiding Your Research
Using the search strategies you learned in Module 3, find two websites: one that you would feel completely confident using in your research and another that might leave you questioning its quality or usefulness. Explain in a sentence or two what it is that makes you trust the first source and doubt the second.

 

 

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