Information Literacy 3 - Website Evaluation
Valencia College Libraries

Module 3

Evaluating Websites

 [Read the following scene. Then click "next page" to begin the learning module.]

Scene 3

Book Tattoos.jpg Val has looked for books from the library and articles from the databases on her topic of tattoos. But, it's so hard for her to ignore the Internet. After all, she uses it all the time to help get information for personal decisions. Val wonders if there is any difference between information needed for personal use and information for scholarly research. Certainly, she thought, there is something on the Internet that can be used for her classroom assignment. She decides to go talk to the librarian, Mr. Bookman, who came and visited her class.

VAL: Excuse me, Mr. Bookman.  I've found some great information from both books and databases for my paper.  But really, don't most people just go to the Internet for answers these days?

BOOKMAN:  Yes, Val.  People do go to the Internet for all kinds of information.  But, what we have to remember about the Internet is that anyone, anywhere, at any time can post information.  As the user of information, we don't know who these people really are, when and where they got their information, and if the information is factual. While people think it might be quicker to just "Google it," you have to analyze information from the Internet. 

VAL:  I'd like to know the difference between what I find in books and articles and what is on the Internet.

 

BOOKMAN: Val, there are many fabulous web sites on the Internet with reliable, credible information that even the most experienced researchers often turn to. However, the catch is that there is also a lot of junk! It's up to you, the researcher, to determine which is which.

VAL: So finding a good web site on the Internet is like trying to find a needle in a haystack?

BOOKMAN: (Laughing) How about more like panning for gold? You need to sift out the junk and know how to spot the best sites. Which reminds me, I have some tips for you on how to do just that (and gives Val a handout with web site evaluation tips).  

(Photo credit: CherryBombed.com. Used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license)

 


Tattoo.jpg With so much information available, how can Val tell what is "true" and what is not on the Internet? Some websites look like valid resources. Yet, after closer inspection, the information provided is either suspect or proven to be incorrect when compared to known legitimate sources. How can she determine if the information from the Internet is appropriate for use in her academic assignment? Val looks at the concept map on the handout given to her by the librarian. It diagramed the steps she should take to determine if an Internet source is valid for research – the ABC³!

 


 

 

(Photo credit: Tatto Design Ideas. Used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license Image credit: Microsoft Clip Gallery.)

 

 

info1.jpg

After evaluating the ABC³ questions for any source, Val should be able to confidently determine the validity of sources. She will be able to focus in on the important elements of a website to determine if the site is a legitimate, authoritative information source and appropriate for use in her academic research project. Complete all acivities in this module so you, too, can recognize the legitimacy of any informational source.

 

 

Image credit: Microsoft Clip Gallery

 

Authorityletter a.png

Authority is the WHO. Who is the author of the website? Val needs to check through the site thoroughly. She should be able to determine who created the site. Is it a government site with a web address (URL) ending in .gov or an educational institution site with an URL ending in .edu? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Information from this website is considered accurate because it is backed by an authoritative source. Val found information on safety issuses related to tattooing from the CDC.

 

 

CDC Tattoo Site.png

 

 

(Photo credit: Tattoos Valley. Used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license)

 

Authority

Val searched the Internet using a search engine like Google. One search result on the history of tattooing had an .edu ending. Val looked closer at the site to try and determine the author of the information.

EDU.png

 

Authority

After clicking on the Contact link at the bottom of the page, Val noticed that the author of the website was a student who developed the site as a class project. Val was surprised to find student work on the Internet that at first glance looked like information provided by the educational institution. After she thought about it, she realized that higher education organizations can publish all kinds of information – not just what is considered academic research.

 

Edu Tattoo Shorter.png

 

 

Authority

Consider more than government and academic sites. Nonprofit institutions' URLs generally end in .org and can offer rich sources of information. The American Cancer Society provides up-to-date information on research into many aspects associated with different types of cancer. The URL endings are a guideline to a site's authority. Be warned. Some sites such as Wikipedia end in .org. While it is a nonprofit organization, information Wikipedia posts is NOT considered citable. Anyone can enter the site and create their own posts or add misleading or incorrect information to existing posts.

Other popular URL endings or extensions are .net for internet service providers and .mil for U. S. military websites. Can an individual not considered an expert in a subject develop a website because it's their hobby? Of course. Val was surprised that the History of Tattooing site she had found earlier was not only a class project; it was merely an interest of the site's author. An individual's hobby does not make that person an expert in the subject. The information may sound legitimate. But, if you cannot determine that the author has some type of expertise in the subject, try looking for another source. Commercial websites usually end with .com or .co. Individuals and businesses can buy a website name and post information that they want to disseminate. Remember, there are plenty of websites posted on the World Wide Web. Look for sites that are backed by a known authority.

 

info1.jpg Val needs to ask these questions:

Can she identify the author/site sponsor of the website? (She might have to look hard.)

What makes this person/entity an expert in the field?

Is the author affiliated with any reputable organizations?

 

The bottom line: Information needs to come from sources that are knowledgeable about that subject.

 

Image credit: Microsoft Clip Gallery

 

 

Bias

Fancy b tattoo.jpg Bias has Val look behind the information and ask the question WHY. Why did this person/organization develop this website? Is it to inform or is it to persuade? Val needs to look to see if a website is presenting information with a biased point-of-view to influence the way she thinks about a subject. Val can look at websites that advertise they have the best tattoo designs and they know the real history behind tattoos. But, are they really just trying to sell Val a tattoo? These sites are meant to influence our perception of the product. Remember that everyone has an agenda or reason for providing a website. Val's job is to find out if that reason is to share information or to influence a reader.

Val should also check to see if a site hosts advertisements that might show some degree of partiality towards a particular point. Advertisements are placed on websites that reflect the advertisers' point of view. Val must then ask if hosting ads is limiting a balanced point of view. Sponsorships can create a conflict of interest and indicate a tendency for a website to provide selective information and not all of the facts that you would find on an impartial site. However, a site established to provide only one point of view does not make it worthless to you as a researcher. In fact, it might contain valuable up-to-date information. Be vigilant about the validity of the information provided and make sure you cross check information. All sites have some level of bias. It is Val's job to determine if bias affects the validity of the information.

 

 

(Photo credit: Sofie's Art Studio. Used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license)

 

 

Bias

Val found a site about tattoo history that is really a site about tattoo removals. The site does not list what makes them an expert in the history of tattoos. They also state that they are the leading authority in tattoo removal but once again they do not say what has given them this authority. Therefore, the information they provide is suspect. Val feels that this site is only trying to sell her a service so she moves on to other websites. Anyone can publish their own personal viewpoints, or opinions, on the Internet. Facts provided by a source must be verified for authenticity.

Tattoo Removal Website.png

 

info1.jpg Val needs to ask these questions:

Can you tell the level of the information's accuracy?

Is the "tone" of the page impartial?

Is there any supporting evidence cited for verification?

 

The bottom line: If information sources are biased, the facts might be presented in a way where we need to question the validity of that information. Biased sources don't always provide misinformation, but it might be possible. Check other sources to verify the information as accurate.


Image credit: Microsoft Clip Gallery


Content


C Tattoo.jpg Content has Val focus in on the HOW. How is a site organized? Is it easy to navigate or do you have to search through page after page for the information you need? Does the site look professional? Spelling and/or grammatical errors are indicators of the work put into the site and clues to the validity of the information posted. If someone can't run the spell check option, can they be trusted to check the facts to verify their validity? Mistakes on the page should have you questioning how thorough the author/publisher was with all aspects of their work.

Content also covers the information provided by the website and information about the publisher. Val should be able to find out who is responsible for the information on the website and how to contact them. Can Val find the author/organization's mission statement? Is the information provided meant to inform, entertain, coerce or sell? The Smithsonian Institution has a website linking to its associated 19 museums, the national Zoo and nine affiliated research centers. While it does provide information on membership benefits, the content of the site is overwhelmingly geared to its mission statement of the "diffusion of knowledge." Smithsonianmag.com is a magazine associated with the Smithsonian that provides popular articles on the various subject areas covered in the many museums.

 

Smithsonian.png

 

 

 

(Photo credit: Design.Tattoo.Ideas. Used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license)

 

Content

Beware of parody sites. These websites are meant to entertain - not inform. Val can spot a satire website if it makes outrageous claims like the parody site Lasik@Home.

Here's another parody site Val found at Cat For Gold!:

CatsForGold.jpg

 

info1.jpg Val needs to ask these questions:

Is the site easy to navigate?

Is the information presented in a clear, informative manner?

Does the presence of any illustrations add to your understanding of the subject?



The bottom line: Information needs to be provided in a clear manner from a trusted source.

Image credit: Microsoft Clip Gallery

 

Currency


C Tattoo.jpg Currency refers to the timeliness of the information or WHEN. Every website should state when it was originally developed or copyrighted. It should also include when it was last modified or the date the information was published. The Homeland Security site on immigration shows the last date the web page was "reviewed/modified" at the bottom of the screen. A site on stem cell research posted in 2000 might provide background information into the field. It will not, however, contain up-to-date information from a field that has seen many changes over the last few years. If "fresh" data is necessary for a project, Val should make sure the website consulted lists a recent publication date. It might be difficult to find dates detailing the posting of information on a website but look closely. If Val can't find a date associated with the posting of information, she would be wise to find another source. Val realizes that her subject isn't dependent on time for the validity of the information. She still wants to know if the sites might include up-to-date facts so she will find out how long ago her websites were published and updated.

(Photo credit: Design.Tattoo.Ideas. Used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license)

 

info1.jpg Val needs to ask these questions:

Can you find the date that the site was first published/copyrighted?

Can you find the date the website was last updated?

Older information may be suited for historical purposes. Do you need timely data?



The bottom line: Sometimes the age of the information makes a difference - sometimes it doesn't. Depending on your research question, determine if you need the most recent data.

Image credit: Microsoft Clip Gallery

Consistency


C Tattoo.jpg Consistency is the last test for evaluating a website. It compares information from different sources to determine if the information has some uniformity. Consistency answers the WHAT question. What information is given? Does the site offer both pros and cons regarding a particular subject? Does the information provided generally coincide with other authoritative sources? If a site does not provide information on both sides of an argument, it should at least be a reputable source that provides verifiable information. Mothers Against Drunk Driving provides statistics to support the law that drinking should be illegal for individuals under the age of 21. While the site can be seen as having some bias, the information provided can be found and verified on other legitimate sites. Check the related links provided by the website. The links should go to other authoritative sites. Val needs websites that have a clear authority and where the information provided has similar information to information she already found in the books and database articles.

The two websites below were sites that Val found interesting. The first site, tattoos.com, not only looks biased, Val is not sure that any of the information comes from a reasonable source. Val also questions if the information is any way consistent with the information from her prior research.

 

Commercial Site.png

 

(Photo credit: Design.Tattoo.Ideas. Used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license)

 

 Consistency

 

On the other hand, Val found the information from the pbs.org site to not only be consistent with her research, she knows they are a name she can trust.

PBS site.png

 

info1.jpg Val needs to ask these questions:

What is the original source of the information?

Are there additional web links to reputable additional/related sites?

What other sites link to the site under review?


The bottom line: Not all information contains the exact same facts and figures. But, information should include a similar thread of thought. If you find information that is totally different from everything else you've found, you need to question the source.

Image credit: Microsoft Clip Gallery

Tattoo2.jpg Val decided that there's a lot of information on the Internet – maybe too much! If she could use popular sources for her academic research paper, she would go back and look at the information available at the pbs.org and Smithsonian.com sites. However, Val is comfortable with the information she found in the books and articles from the databases. She feels she can now judge the quality of information found on the web. So the next time she needs any information from the Internet, Val is better prepared to decided what is quality and what is just quantity.

 

 

 


(Photo credit: Tattoos-and-art.com. Used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license)

 

 

Conclusion

 

info1.jpg In this module you learned about:

 

 

Image credit: Microsoft Clip Gallery