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The Internet – evaluating resources
Contrary to popular belief, not everything can be found on the Internet. However, quite a lot of good information can be. As with all information gathering, it is important to evaluate the information you find before deciding to use it.
The end of the URL (Internet address) can tell you a lot about where the page comes from. ‘.gov’ and ‘.edu’ are from government and educational bodies respectively. These organisations often have better quality control than some ‘.com’ sites. Look for official industry bodies and respected community organisations ahead of “Joe Blogg’s page on…”
Some useful questions to ask yourself are:
- Who is the author? does it say? Are they qualified?
- Who is the sponsor or publisher? Are they reputable?
- What topics are covered? What is not covered?
- How in-depth is the information?
- How accurate is the information? (not everything on the page will be new to
- you, does what you are reading tally with what you have read elsewhere?)
- Are there obvious errors (for example spelling mistakes)
- Where is the page from? (try checking the country code at the end of the URL, or click ‘contact us’ to see if there is a physical location mentioned)
- Is there a regional bias? (for example a page from Britain or America might not be consistent with Australian experiences)
- When was the page last updated? (most pages have a ‘last updated’ message or a copyright year)
- How current are the links? (broken links can indicate poor or slow updating)
- This is the most important question of all: why has someone taken the time to post this information online?
- What is the purpose of the website?
- Are there underlying biases? Is the site trying to persuade you to a particular point of view?
Google Scholar is a part of Google that allows you to focus your search on more academic resources. It will allow you to search banks of free online magazine articles and books for information. To get Google Scholar click the ‘more’ button at the top of a normal Google search page and select ‘scholar’.
A word on Wikipedia
Wikipedia is written by all sorts of people around the world. Anyone can write and change whatever they want in Wikipedia (to a point), which means that personal bias and incorrect information can often be found. However, it can be a useful place to start research, to get an overview of a topic and some further references. It is not recommended that you directly use anything you find on Wikipedia in an assignment, but the ‘further reading’ part at the bottom of each page can give you ideas of other places to look for information. Feel free to use Wikipedia, but use it with caution!
Tips for finding information
- The top of the page will often give you sponsor information
- Government websites are sponsored by the Government (State, Federal or Local) and are authored by the department.
- Try looking at the bottom of the page for copyright information – this will often give you the date and author.
- Check to see if the page has ‘contact us’ or ‘about us’ information – this will often give you the author’s details and place of publication.
Evaluating websites by Gulf Coast State College Library
Credible Websites? from Hartness Library, Vermont Tech