thinking is THE most important skill you will learn in college. To be
educated means finding and weighing information and then using it to
think for yourself. You must learn to sharpen your critical antennae
and develop a healthy skepticism about all information from television,
books, magazines, newspapers, teachers, even textbooks and academic
journals, but especially information found on the Internet. Here are
a few guidelines that might help you decide whether the information
you find on the Web is the kind of information you want to base your
beliefs and your decisions on.
no mistake, the search engine companies are not in the business of
creating relevant and accurate Web search results. Google is an advertising
firm--they all are. Their business is the conversion of search traffic
into advertising revenue. This conversion is improved if a search
engine is more popular, but good search results are the bait, not
the big catch." Pace, Andrew K. "Technically Speaking: The
Business of Search Engines." American Libraries May 2004
35.5: 60+. Infotrac Expanded Academic ASAP
for Evaluating Websites
Authority of the source
What DOMAIN is the webpage coming from?
it on the official website of the school? Does it belongs to a faculty
member (is it a personal or teaching page) or a student or a staff
member? Watch for a tilde ~ or a percent
sign % after the domain. This often indicates an individual's webpage
being served from a university computer.
.gov--federal government? United States. Might it be politically
.org---not-for-profit organization. What is the group's ideology
or common interest? Do they have any reason to be objective?
.com--commercial vendor? Is it sponsored by a commercial
vendor? Paid for with advertising?
.net--This can be any individual who can afford to pay for
server space? ISP itself? Individual? Not-very-organized group?More
Do you trust the person or webpage that sent you there? Was
it a search engine, an unsolicited email, your close friend, your
doctor, your teacher, a textbook? The more you trust the source, the
less you have to spend time evaluating its quality.
Do you recognise the author, the institution, the
entity on whose server the page resides? Don't assume that because the initial url looks authentic that the site is the "official" one. Is the url trying to trick
you like this "redirect" link?
http://www.nytimes.com:80arts.COUN@126.96.36.199/country_music_study.html or this one: http://usa.visa.com/track/dyredir.jsp?rDirl=http://188.8.131.52/.verified/
Can you find out more about the author from exploring the
web site itself? (If not, why not?) Read critically the "About us,"
" Mission," or "Who we are" links. Is some kind of bias implied? (See B2 below.) Does
someone take clear responsibility for the content of the page? Are
those responsible actually named and their credentials given? If there
isn't a link that explains the reason for and author of the website--do
not use it! What about this one: http://activistcash.com/ . More
can use Domain Registration records to find out who registered this
URL. It is often very interesting to see who is "bankrolling"
Who is really responsible for this website? IslamicConcern.com
edu domains: http://whois.educause.net/
Bias or Accuracy and Objectivity
What is the purpose of this information?
The underlying purpose of a website can affect its objectivity.
- Is it to make money, support a political party, proselytize, advertise,
sell, humor, satire, parody(35), opinion, propaganda, advocacy, missionary
zeal, teenage hijinks, other?
- Or is it for public service, reference, news, education, published
academic research, law/legislation, data, statistics?
- Or some mixture of both?
Is any sort of bias evident? esp. overwrought and unbalanced
language claiming absolute truth without verifiable data or is there
scholarly acknowledgment of others opinions, controversies or theories;
acknowledgment of limitation and documentation of verifiable sources.
of propaganda vs scholarly research
Can you verify the information in another reputable source?
Respectable journalists always verify information by finding another
source of the same information. Can you do that too? Try
this site to see
what happens if you don't verify thoroughly!
Is the information blatant advertising, or is the website
more subtle, yet put out by a entity that derives money or goodwill
from this kind of publicity? Try this website: http://www.mercola.com
Does the author display knowledge of related sources? Is
there a believable bibliography or footnotes supporting the information
Is quality evident through factors like: design, presentation,
freedom from spelling errors, typos, bad links, etc. Beautiful webpages
are not always the most accurate, but badly done pages are especially
Evaluate this website for bias. http://www.martinlutherking.org/
Currency and Coverage and Continuity
Is the document manually or automatically updated?
A little html code can change the date everyday without anyone updating
it. See the very top of this page.
Does the webpage state when it was last revised? Might be ok for history, but what about medical, legal or political information--outdated information can be wrong information.
Is there an indication of whether it is only part of something else, an excerpt, or
the entirety of a work. Half a loaf of information is not better than none: think medical trials, court cases, poems, stories, essays.
Is this page likely to disappear tomorrow? All webpages are
likely to disappear sometime! You need to be able to prove that this
page existed. Have you printed or downloaded the
pages so you can prove the existence of these pages
if called upon to do so? You are responsible for proving that
your sources existed!
When was this page last updated? Plagiarism
Documentation and Plagiarism
1. Do you know how to document online sources according
to the style guide required by your instructor or your discipline?
Some library databases will help you format articles according to
the basic style guides, e.g. EBSCO and InfoTrac. Explore the pages you find to
see if they will help you do this.
When using the EBSCO databases, set the "preference to your required style. Save the brief citation and look at resulting screen. It won't be perfect. But EBSCO gives you a link to a style guide so you can manually fix the citation.
Sample Paper and Documentation
KnightCite from Calvin College Library.
Citation Machine. This will get you close, but it is never totally
correct. You must check the citation carefully.
Download Zotero, the Firefox extension for Macintosh, and learn how to use it.
Call or come to the Reference Desk for help.
Taking information off a website, even paraphrasing a webpage, without citing the source is plagiarism.
3. Email, chat and texting info. must also be cited
in your paper.
Will your instructor let you run your paper through Turnitin before final submission? [You will need an account number from your instructor.]
5. Using a free term paper or using one bought on
the web is plagiarism. Complaining about the quality of a paper you
took or bought from a diploma mill is futile! Who are you going to
Efficiency. What can you do to make your results better? --And save
1. Before you begin searching for information, read
your assignment three times! Don't spend time evaluating webpages
if your assignment says use scholarly or academically respectable
information--go first to the library databases where you are more
likely to find better information more quickly.
If you decide that you CAN use Internet sites and before
you start searching, think about what kind of information you
are looking for. Different kinds of information come from different
kinds of places. The kind of information you need may determine where
you begin your search.
Do you need:
A quick bit of information for recreational use. Google or Goodle Advanced or Wikipedia(check out the "discussion" tab to see the arguments behind wikipedia entries.)
Books, also call scholarly monographs, or popular books. Library catalog, public library, WorldCat.org, InterLibrary Loan
journals for an upper division paper? Some library
databases or open access journals (DOAJ)
or Google Scholar or online scholarly associations.
documents for a history paper? Maybe from the Library
of Congress American Memory Project or a history
interest group or a university
online project.The library catalog actually lists lots of books of primary sources: letters, diaries, correspondence, etc.
Books published before 1923. Sometimes these have been scanned and put online. Check Google Books or our list of Electronic Books.
and current stories for a public speaking class? Popular
magazines and newspapers online or in a library
databases like LexisNexis.
of viewpoints? Opposing Viewpoints database, CQ
Researcher's Pro and Con section: (scroll
for these in the alphabetical list of databases on this page.
latest medical knowledge about drug interactions
for your parents health issues, but written to be understood by
a layperson? U.S. government
sites or a library
MOST current news for your own curiosity? LexisNexis database or Google
news or Yahoo news gathered from a variety of reliable sources.
Use the "Advanced" searches in Google,
Yahoo ( you must do a simple search before the Advanced option
becomes available in Yahoo), and Ask.com to get better results. (Click here
to see how to use Google
Advanced or Yahoo
Advanced Search or Ask.com
to limit to a specific domain)