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Quality Web Sources: THE BASICS

Evaluating web sites is basically the same as evaluating any information, but there are a few things additional things to watch out for.

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What to Look For

In evaluating content on the web, you will look for many of the same characteristics that you look for in other resources, and evaluate based on some additional criteria, such as the host of the website and functionality of the website.

Authority/Credentials - Who authored the content on the web page? What are their credentials? Are they an expert in the field? Depending upon how you are using this information, you want to be sure that the author is a credible and reliable source of information in the field. One way to determine this is to look at what kinds of websites link to the website you are evaluating. The more credible and authoritative those websites are, the more credible and authoritative the one you are evaluating is likely to be. You can find out what links to a particular website at alexa.com.

Type of Source / Audience - Academic, Industry /Trade / Professional Publications, Substantive News, Popular, Sensational. See Types of Information: How to Determine Audience

Relevancy Is the information related to the topic you are researching? You may find something to be interesting, but make sure it has a place in your main argument.

Point of View / Objectivity / Bias - Does the information reflect an author's bias? If the author has a position, is it well reasoned and argued and supported by empirical evidence? If you are going to use a source that is biased, you want to make sure that the position reflected is supported by ample evidence. You also want to acknowledge any bias in your paper or article.

CurrencyIs the information up-to-date? Remember that just because the webpage has been updated recently, that doesn't mean that all of the information on the webpage has necessarily been updated. Cross check the information with other sources. 

AccuracyCurrent information is more likely to be accurate, but not always. Even if it is current, be sure to cross check the information with other sources.

Content Coverage/Scope - What topics are covered in the source? Does the website cover many sides of the topic?  Is the scope broad or narrow? Is there evidence to back up the arguments? Are references to additional sources provided? Be sure the source has the kind of coverage of the topic that you want before you decide to use it.

Host Is the host a reputable organization or individual? (The government - with a domain of .gov - would be an example.) Remember, the author is not always the host of the website. The author could have some sort of sponsor, and that could mean that there were terms that he/she had to agree to in order to publish on that site. When evaluating for authority, pay attention to the website host or sponsor in addition to the actual author. For example, it is usually best to stay away from information hosted on corporate websites, because for-profit companies can have a hidden agenda that serves their bottom line of profit. On the other hand, the information on a corporate website might meet all of the other criteria here. If the corporation's mission is to spread accurate and objective information, and you can corroborate the information with other sources, it may be acceptable to use. Use your best judgment. 

Functionality - Is the website easy to navigate and use? You may find good information on a website, but if it's very messy and difficult to find that information, it would make it difficult for your readers to later trace those citations and figure out the exact source and location of the information that you used.

AdsIf the website has a lot of ads (especially if they are particularly prominent or distracting), you may not want to use it as a source. The information may be accurate and authoritative, but the appearance may undermine its credibility. What does it say about a source of information if it contains advertisements for commercial products and services? Many people might think the information is biased, even if it is not.

Fake News Websites

From Fake News List of Websites from Wikipedia

What Do You Think of These Websites?

Dihydrogen Monoxide Research Division
A clearinghouse of information for citizens concerned about the dangerous chemical Dihydrogen Monoxide which is present in numerous toxic substances and can be lethal if inhaled. Of course, Dihydrogen Monoxide is more popularly known as water.

Dog Island
An island where dogs can roam free.

Feline Reactions to Bearded Men
A piece of cutting-edge research. Pretty self-explanatory.

Ninja Burger
The world's predominant undergound ninja-run fast food delivery service.

Power from the Phone Company
Plug your electrical appliances into the phone jack.

Time Travel Mutual Fund
Your ticket to the future.

Whitehouse.net
The URL might lead you to think it's the website of the real White House, but it's not.

Yoga Kitty
Instructional yoga videos for you and your cat


Credit: The Museum of Hoaxes was established in 1997. It explores deception, mischief, and misinformation throughout history, playing host to a variety of humbugs and hoodwinks — from ancient fakery all the way up to modern schemes, dupes, and dodges that circulate online.

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