Monday, April 10, 2006

Criteria for Evaluating E-Information

1. What can the URL tell you?
1. Before you leave the list of search results -- before you click and get interested in anything written on the page -- glean all you can from the URLs of each page.
2. Then choose pages most likely to be reliable and authenticated.

2. Scan the perimeter of the page, looking for answers to these questions:

1. Look for links that say "About us," "Philosophy," "Background," "Biography," "Who am I," etc.

2. If you cannot find any links like these, you can often find this kind of information if you Truncate
INSTRUCTIONS for Truncating back a URL: In the top Location Box, delete the end characters of the URL stopping just before each / (leave the slash). Press enter to see if you can see more about the author or the origins/nature of the site providing the page.
Continue this process, one slash (/) at a time, until you reach the first single / which is preceded by the domain name portion. This is the page's server or "publisher."
3. Look for the date "last updated" - usually at the bottom of a web page.
Check the date on all the pages on the site.
Do not rely on a date given in IE's FileProperties or Netscape/Mozilla's ViewPage Info displays. These dates can be automatically kept current and are useless in critical evaluation.

(3. Look for indicators of quality information:

1. Look for a link called "links," "additional sites," "related links," etc.
2. In the text, if you see little footnote numbers or links that might refer to documentation, take the time to explore them.
What kinds of publications or sites are they? Reputable? Scholarly?
Are they real? On the web (where no publisher is editing most pages), it is possible to create totally fake references.
3. Look at the publisher of the page (first part of the URL).
Expect a journal article, newspaper article, and some other publications that are recent to come from the original publisher IF the publication is available on the web.
Look at the bottom of such articles for copyright information or permissions to reproduce.

4. What do others say?

1. Find out what other web pages link to this page.
a. Use URL information:
Simply paste the url into's search box.
You will see, depending on the volume of traffic to the page:

  1. Traffic rank
  2. Subjective reviews
  3. "Site statistics" including some page history, sites that link to the page
  4. Contact/ownership info for the domain name
  5. A link to the Internet archive of website history "Wayback Machine"
b. Do a link: search in Google, Yahoo!, or another search engine where this can be done.
INSTRUCTIONS for doing a link: search in Google or Yahoo!:
1. Copy the URL of the page you are investigating (Ctrl+C in Windows).
2. Go to the search engine site, and type link: in the search box.
3. Paste the URL of the investigated site into the search box immediately following link: (no space after the colon).
The pages listed all contain one or more links to the page you are looking for.
If you find no links, try a shorter portion of the URL, stopping after each /.
2. Look the page up in a reputable
directory that evaluates its contents (Librarians' Index, Infomine,, AcademicInfo, or a specialized directory you trust).

5. Does it all add up?

1. Step back and think about all you have learned about the page. Listen to your gut reaction. Think about why the page was created, the intentions of its author(s).
If you have doubts, ask your instructor or come to one of the library reference desks and ask for advice.
2. Be sensitive to the possibility that you are the victim of irony, spoof, fraud, or other falsehood.
3. Ask yourself if the web is truly the best place to find resources for the research you are doing.

WHY? Rationale for Evaluating What You Find on the Web
The World Wide Web can be a great place to accomplish research on many topics. But putting documents or pages on the web is easy, cheap or free, unregulated, and unmonitored (at least in the USA). There is a famous Steiner cartoon published in the New Yorker (July 5, 1993) with two dogs sitting before a terminal looking at a computer screen; one says to the other "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." The great wealth that the Internet has brought to so much of society is the ability for people to express themselves, find one another, exchange ideas, discover possible peers worldwide they never would have otherwise met, and, through hypertext links in web pages, suggest so many other people's ideas and personalities to anyone who comes and clicks. There are some real "dogs" out there, but there's also great treasure.
Therein lies the rationale for evaluating carefully whatever you find on the Web. The burden is on you - the reader - to establish the validity, authorship, timeliness, and integrity of what you find. Documents can easily be copied and falsified or copied with omissions and errors -- intentional or accidental. In the general World Wide Web there are no editors (unlike most print publications) to proofread and "send it back" or "reject it" until it meets the standards of a publishing house's reputation. Most pages found in general search engines for the web are self-published or published by businesses small and large with motives to get you to buy something or believe a point of view. Even within university and library web sites, there can be many pages that the institution does not try to oversee. The web needs to be free like that!! And you, if you want to use it for serious research, need to cultivate the habit of healthy skepticism, of questioning everything you find with critical thinking.

(More About Evaluating Web Sources

  1. Evaluating Information Found on the Internet <> An excellent series of pages on this subject (from the Milton Library at Johns Hopkins University).

  2. Critical Evaluation of Resources <>A broader, more theoretical look at the criteria and importance of evaluating all types of resources (also from the UC Berkeley Teaching Library).

  3. For annotated descriptions of many other good guides to evaluating web pages, search the subject "Evaluation of Internet Resources" in the Librarians' Index to the Internet <>.

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