How to Evaluate Websites

When you’re doing research for one of your
classes, it’s important that you have the most reliable information possible. The internet is a great place to start because
there’s so much information available. However, it’s important to remember that
ANYONE can post online, which means that some of the information you find on the internet
is not going to be trustworthy. Today we’re going to talk about the criteria
you should use to make sure that you only use sources you can trust. If you’d like to follow along, you can find
the link to this presentation below the video. There are six basic criteria for evaluating
websites: Purpose and audience, authority and credibility, accuracy and reliability,
currency and timeliness, objectivity or bias, and structure and navigation. To explore these criteria, we’re going to
use three practice websites. These websites are linked at the bottom of
each slide, but you can also find the links below this video. Let’s imagine that you’re doing a research
paper about school uniforms. You want to know if uniforms help students
do better in school, and you’ve found these three potential sources. How can we decide if we can trust this information? First, we must look at the purpose and audience. To do this, ask yourself the following questions:
Who is the intended audience of the site? Is the site scholarly or popular? Is the site trying to sell something? To entertain? To persuade? And what is the overall purpose of the site? Answering these questions can help you decide
if you can trust this information. Right now, pause the video and visit the three
practice sites. As you explore them, try to answer these four
questions. The first website is Bargain Babe’s blog
post, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Who is the target audience? Looking at the writer’s words, she seems
to be addressing parents, especially moms. While parents might know a lot about school
uniforms, their information is probably based on personal experience, and not verifiable
facts. But there are other problems with this website’s
purpose. Did you notice the links to online stores,
such as Gap and Polo? What about the notice that the post contains
affiliate links? An affiliate link is when a business pays
a website to send them internet traffic. So one of the purposes of this website is
to generate revenue for the blogger. This means that she’s more likely to tell
you information that will send you to these websites, and she might leave out information
that doesn’t help her make money. Now let’s look at the next website and try
to answer the same questions. On the surface, it might seem like this website
is giving you good information about the advantages of school uniforms, but before you use it
for your research, you should ask: What is the purpose of this site, who is the audience,
and what clues do we have to figure this out? First, this website is definitely trying to
sell something. We see clues like “Customer Service” and
“Free Shipping.” Because this site is trying to sell school
uniforms, they might leave out any information that shows the disadvantages of school uniforms. Second, the website’s audience appears to
be parents or school systems interested in purchasing uniforms. The ultimate purpose of this website is to
sell a product, not to provide information. Now let’s look at the third website, by
the U.S. Department of Education. If you want to learn more about a website,
look to see if they have an About page or a Mission Statement. You can often find it at the very top or the
very bottom of the page. This can tell you the purpose of the website. As you can see here, one of the Department
of Education’s goals is “Collecting data on America’s schools and disseminating research.” This website isn’t trying to sell something
or try to persuade you–its purpose is to provide information. The next criterion looks at the person or people
responsible for the website. You want to make sure that the information
is by someone who can be trusted and is qualified to write about this information. Ask yourself: Can the author of the site be
identified? What are the author’s qualifications? Do you think the author has expertise on the
subject? Also look to see if the site is affiliated
with a particular organization, and check out the domain of the site, which can tell
you more about who’s responsible for it. Now pause the video and return to our three
practice sites. Take a few minutes to evaluate the authority
and credibility of these sites. First, let’s look at Bargain Babe. Does this title sound like a good source for
scholarly information? Next, let’s look at the author. We have her name, but it isn’t linked, and
exploring the website doesn’t reveal any information about her. If you can’t find any information about
an author, try doing a Google search for that person’s name. In this case, we can’t find anything about
Rachelle Romberg that qualifies her as a scholarly expert on the advantages of school uniforms. If we look at the About page for Parker School
Uniforms, we see that they seem to know a lot about uniforms. But notice that their knowledge is about making
and buying uniforms, not about whether uniforms help students do better in school. Next, look at the U.S. Department of Education. As we know from the about page, this website
collects data specifically about education, so this source is much more qualified to discuss
the effects of uniforms on student’s success in school. So let’s look at the accuracy and reliability
of the site. Good sources will tell you where they got
their information, and they’ll appear professional and well-edited. Right now, pause the video and take a few
minutes to look at the practice sites. Answer the following questions:
Does the site appear to be well-researched? Does the site include the sources of the information? Does the site include grammatical, spelling,
or typographical errors? How does the site compare to library resources
available on the topic? Remember it’s always a good idea to check
library resources to see if you can find a better source for your information. A reliable source will get their information
from other reliable sources. Let’s think about where “Bargain Babe”
gets its information. The first quote comes from Read Maria. Who is this person? Is she an expert, or, more likely, just somebody
who likes to read the blog? Also look out for weasel words, which appeal
to an anonymous authority without providing any real evidence. Now let’s take a look at the information
provided by Parker School Uniforms. The website says: Successful people are known
around the world for wearing the same thing almost every single day” and “This same
mentality reaches into the school systems, giving your students the energy to keep their
minds on what they’re learning, leading to improved student involvement and improved
test scores.” At first, this might seem like good information
to include in your paper. But there are a couple of problems. First, the source uses weasel words. Who are these successful people? Why don’t they provide a specific example
or quote from one of these people? Second, the source doesn’t tell you where
it gets its information from. Do school uniforms lead to improved student
involvement and test scores? Don’t just take their word for it–they
need to cite their sources. Where is the research that proves this to
be true? Finally, we have the Department of Education
website. This article contains a lot of information,
and it tells you where this information comes from. Sometimes an article will link to the source
of information or they might include the name of the source in the sentence. Either way, make sure you know where the information
comes from. Then, you should check these sources to make
sure they’re reliable. When evaluating websites, you should also
make the information is timely and up-to-date. This is especially important for topics that
change quickly, such as medicine, technology, and politics. Now pause the video, visit the practice websites,
and ask yourself these questions: When was this information published? When was the page most recently updated? Does the page include references to recent
events of developments? Are there dead links on the page? Here are a few ways you can determine how
recently a website was published. First, look for a publication date, usually
at the top of a post, near the author’s name. If you can’t find a publication date, look
for a “last updated” or “copyright” date. This is sometimes at the very bottom of a
page. You should also make sure that the sources
used by the website are recent. For example, we can see that the Department
of Education is citing a source from 2013. Finally, look out for broken links or missing
pages. This is a sign that the page hasn’t been
updated in a while, and some of the information might be out of date. Finally, when you’re evaluating a website,
you want to find information that is based in fact. It should not be based in emotion or personal
opinion. Now take a minute to visit our practice sites
to see if you can determine how objective they are. Ask these questions:
Does the site present multiple viewpoints or just one? Can you tell if the site presents mostly opinions
or facts? Can you identify any bias in the information
presented? Is the site sponsored by a company or organization? Think about how this might affect the way
they present the information. Finally, if there are advertisements, are
they easy to distinguish from the information? When you look at Bargain Babe, it looks like
it’s presenting multiple viewpoints. After all, it lists both pros and cons. However, there’s a problem–all of the viewpoints
are just personal opinions, without including in outside evidence to support these ideas. The website for Parker School Uniforms does
include some evidence, but they only present a one-sided point of view. Remember, if a source is trying to sell something,
they’re probably not going to give you any negative information about that topic. Finally, the source from the Department of
Education does both things well: It includes both sides of the issue, because it mentions
how bullying overall has decreased, but acknowledges that one kind of bullying–cyberbullying–has
increased. This paragraph also tells us that they got
their information from the National Crime Victimization Survey. This source is reliable because instead of
using personal opinions, it uses a verifiable outside source. If you use the open web to conduct research,
it’s important for you to make sure that you evaluate the Purpose, Authority, Accuracy,
Timeliness, and Objectivity of your source. Here are a few final things to think about
as you begin your research…Is this information appropriate for your particular project? What are the expectations of your professor? (Some require only peer-reviewed scholarly
articles!) Have you tried to find the same (or better)
information through the library databases? Would you be able to defend the quality of
this source, using the given criteria? Remember, you’re responsible for the quality
of the information you use. Think critically about what you’re reading
and select your sources carefully. For more information, you can contact your librarian. We can help you determine if your information is reliable.

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