Finding Authoritative Web Sites
The Web contains a lot of good, authoritative information. It also contains a lot of information that should not be trusted. You need to be able to look at the information you find with a critical eye. Evaluating Internet sources is harder then evaluating print resources. This is true for several reasons:
- Because anyone can put up an Internet site, it is harder to know who is the author of the source and what his/her credentials are
- Internet sources are much more fluid -- the information they provide can change in an instant
- Often the content has not been evaluated before it is posted on the Internet
Thinking about the reliability of the source and validity of the content will help you determine whether a given Web site should be trusted.
Reliability of the Source
- URLs: the Uniform Resource Locator or URL often provides some information about the origin of the site. By "decoding" the URL one can get some idea of where the source originated.
- Often the URL will include the name or abbrevation of the organization where the site origininated.
- Another easy indicator is the "domain" the site is in. Some examples are "edu" for education, "com" for commercial, "gov" for the US government. These are only used for US sites; sites from non-US countries are usually only identified by a two letter country code.
- Author of the Source: Is it easy to find who wrote the site? Is that person responsible for the content of the site?
- Owner/Sponsor of the site: Is the owner of the site different then the author of the site? Does the owner of the site have anything to do with the content of the site? Is the owner of the site listed anywhere? Is the site for promotional purposes? Is the site being used to forward the agenda of a particular group?
Validity of the Content
- Purpose - Things are written for a purpose. By looking for and recognizing that purpose, you can better understand the work. When looking for the purpose of a source, one should ask:
- What is the purpose of the site?
- Is the site written from a particular point of view?
- What is the author's bias?
- Is the site only trying to provide information or is the site trying to sell something?
- Is it a promotional site for an organization?
- Who is the intended audience?
- Verification - It is important to verify the information provided by any source. When looking to veirfy information, one should ask:
- Can the information be verified?
- Are the basic facts the same in more than one source?
- Has there been any reaction to the author's claims?
- Documentation - Authors should give credit where credit is due. Supplying a list of sources used is important for any work. A list of sources makes it easy to verify the information.
- Does the author document the information?
- Are the author's claims backed-up with additional sources and checkable facts?
- Does the author provide a bibliography?
- Accuracy - Authors need to use accurate information. They also need to use other sources accurately. Without the correct information the authors claims might not be true; therefore, one needs to ask:
- How accurate is the information?
- Does the author provide proof for his/her claims?
- Does the author quote other authors correctly?
- Are other authors saying similar things?
- Currency - Look in the bibliography and see how current the sources the author uses are. For some topics, current information is very important. In other topics, currency is not quite as important, but even in these areas, authors need to be aware of the current ideas and trends. Therefore, one needs to pay attention to the currency of the sources the author uses and ask the following questions:
- How current is the information?
- Is there any indication of the last time the site was updated?
- Is the author using current sources?
- Is the author trying to pass off old information as new and current?