The most difficult and time-consuming part of research used to be the gathering of information. Today that can be the easiest part, thanks to technology.
The number of resources available via the Internet is immense and it continues to grow at a staggering rate. Hobbes' Internet Timeline reports that the Internet has been doubling in size about every year, growing at a rate of 10% to 15% a month.
Organizations, companies, educational institutions, government agencies, communities, and individual people all serve as information providers for the electronic Internet community. This technology allows anyone to publish anything at anytime - and it's easy to do.
Most of the information on the Internet is not reviewed or "filtered." In other words, unlike the more traditional information media (books, magazines, videos) which pass through an editor, the content of a web page does not have to be approved by anyone before it is made public. Seldom is there a reviewing process conducted by peers or an authority, or checking by a publication or editor, or selection by a librarian during collection development. Anyone can say anything. Unfortunately, many people, especially students, often believe "If it's on the Internet, it must be true."
Following are some basic criteria for evaluating Internet resources.
Authority indicates whether or not an individual, an organization, or an agency is recognized as an expert in a field and if that body is knowledgeable, qualified, and reliable. An example of a reliable authority would be a university or a government agency. Authority is an extremely important criterion when evaluating Internet resources.
Is the author/information provider clearly identified? Is data included about the author/information provider?
Is the author/information provider affiliated with a recognized institution/organization?
Examining the URL (address) can give clues to the authority of a source. One part of the URL's domain is the host, a three-letter suffix indicating the type of domain:
edu=higher education college or university
gov=government agency or organization
info=general information site
(Watch for new domain types in the near future.)
In the example http://www.jhu.edu/~jsmith/sports.html, edu indicates the host is an educational institution (almost always higher education), in this case Johns Hopkins University. While this sounds very reputable, the tilde (~) after the type of domain usually indicates a personal web page rather than part of the organization's official web site. The example indicates the site is a file about sports in the folder of someone named jsmith. While J. Smith may be a students with some opinion to spout about sports, J. Smith could also be an instructor or coach with valuable information to share. Extra scrutiny should be applied to such sites.
- Information presented on an official organizational web site
- Online journals that use peer review by editors or others
- Posting of information taken from books or journals that previously underwent a quality control process
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Accuracy means how correct, how reliable the information is contained on the website.
Objectivity refers to the presence of factual data and the lack of personal prejudice in the information presented.
When it comes to currency of information, the Internet can have a definite advantage over traditional information resources. Its technology allows almost instantaneous updating of information. Students can follow the launch of a space shuttle or track a hurricane practically minute by minute.
Be aware that if a date is provided on a site, that date may have various meanings. For example:
A site may be updated or revised without all of the information being revised. Do the dates for the updates correspond to the information in the resource? Does the organization or person hosting the resource appear to have a commitment to ongoing maintenance and stability of the resource?
Look at the date(s) and decide what is important and relevant
to you. As in printed sources, some work is timeless, like classic
novels or much of history. Other work has a limited useful life
because of advances in the discipline (as in science, for example)or
because it is outdated very quickly (as in technology news). You
must therefore be careful to note when the information you retrieve
wasfirst created and then decide whether it is still of value.
Usability refers to how easily the site allows one to get to the information efficiently
|| Top | Authority | Accuracy | Objectivity | Currency | Usability | Kinds of Webpages ||
Librarians at Widener University, Jan Alexander and Marsha Ann Tate, have identified five different kinds of webpages. Each kind should be examined separately regarding the above criteria. Certain criteria are more important than others when evaluating certain kinds of webpages.
The Internet is only one source of information.
1. It can be very useful for researching certain topics.
2. It can be almost useless for other topics.
3. To research a topic thoroughly, use a variety of sources, both Internet and non-Internet.
4. When using the Internet, always question the value of the information you find by using the criteria (all or any combination) discussed above.
Technology is outpacing the ability to create standards and guidelines for information on the Internet. Establishing evaluation procedures is an ongoing, evolutionary process.