How to Evaluate Internet Resources
Finding things on the web isn't always easy. The information you want may not be there at all -- lots of material is available only in hardcopy formats, so don't assume that using the web can replace a visit to the library. Additionally, the information that you do find on the web is often hard to interpret and evaluate without a good solid background on your topic.
As you browse the web you'll run across a wide range of web pages. They may differ in subject matter, perspective, type of author, and degree of accuracy. Just as with the newspaper, "don't believe everything you read." But it's worse than a newspaper, since the web gives (almost) equal voice to anyone who wants to publish on it. When you look at a web page, essentially the only information you have to judge the page on is the information on the page itself. At least with a newspaper story you know it met the editorial standards of that particular newspaper, and you know whether the story was published in the Wall Street Journal or the National Inquirer.
You need to read what you find critically, both at the level of reliability of the information, and of biases the author of the web site may bring to the intellectual issues. The following are some ways to do this.
- Is the author a qualified expert in the field?
- What is her/his occupation, position, education, experience?
- What are her/his credentials?
- Who endorsed or published the information?
- What is the purpose of publication? Does the material inform? Explain? Persuade?
- Are assumptions, personal bias and opinions clearly stated?
- Is information presented in a clear and reasonable fashion?
- Are conclusions supported by facts?
- Is the site supported by advertising or run by a business?
- Is the author affiliated with particular organizations, institutions, or associations?
- What were the author's sources?
- Was the work peer reviewed and/or edited?
- Is the work free of grammatical and typographical errors?
- Do facts and conclusions check out with other reputable sources?
- When was the work written and published?
- Are the author's sources up-to-date?
- Has the information been updated or revised?
- Is there provision for corrective feedback to the author?
Don't rely only on the Internet, and carefully evaluate what you find there.
- Is it clear what topics are covered?
- Are they covered in sufficient depth?
- What is their relevance to your research?