It’s never enough to remind ourselves about the deep dives online that get us in trouble by not looking critically at websites when we are looking for information online. Every day there is another scam and misinformation for the unsuspecting. So, below are tips to keep in mind as you surf the web and visit websites.
Who is the author?
Is the author’s name given?
Are his/her qualifications specified?
Is there a link to information about his/her and the position?
Is there a way to contact the author (an address or a “Mailto” link)?
Has the author written elsewhere on this topic?
Who is the sponsor of the Web site?
Is the author affiliated with a reputable institution or organization?
Does the information reflect the views of the organization, or only of the author? If the sponsoring institution or organization is not clearly identified on the site, check the URL. It may contain the name of a university or the extension .edu, which is used by many educational institutions. Government sites are identified by the extension .gov. URLs containing .org are trickier, and require research: these are sites sponsored by non-profit organizations, some of which are reliable sources and some of which are very biased. Sites with the .com extension should also be used with caution, because they have commercial or corporate sponsors who probably want to sell you something. The extension ~NAME often means a personal Web page with no institutional backing; use such sites only if you have checked on the author’s credibility in print sources.
What audience is the Web site designed for? You want information at the college or research level
Is the Web site current?
Is the site dated?
Is the date of the most recent update given? Generally speaking, Internet resources should be up-to-date; after all, getting the most current information is the main reason for using the Net for research in the first place.
Are all the links up-to-date and working? Broken links may mean the site is out-of-date; they’re certainly a sign that it’s not well-maintained.
Is the material on the Web site reliable and accurate?
Is the information factual, not opinion?
Can you verify the information in print sources?
Is the source of the information clearly stated, whether original research material or secondary material borrowed from elsewhere?
How valid is the research that is the source?
Does the material as presented, have substance and depth?
Where arguments are given, are they based on strong evidence and good logic?
Is the author’s point of view impartial and objective?
Is the author’s language free of emotion and bias?
Is the site free of errors in spelling or grammar and other signs of carelessness in its presentation of the material?
Are additional electronic and print sources provided to complement or support the material on the Web site?
If you can answer all these questions positively when looking at a particular site, then you can be pretty sure it’s a good one; if it doesn’t measure up one way or another, it’s probably a site to avoid. The key to the whole process is to think critically about what you find on the Net; if you want to use it, you are responsible for ensuring that it is reliable and accurate.