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Online Reference: Writing and Presenting

Evaluating Web Pages

The web can be a great source of information, but since almost anyone can have a web page it is up to you to judge whether a web site is valid and trustworthy. If you want to use a web site for serious research, take a critical look at the source by asking yourself this series of questions.

Accuracy:
How does the information compare with other works on the topic?
Is it reliable?
Is it verifiable?
Are sources documented with footnotes or links?

Audience:
Who is the author(s) trying to reach?
Who is the target audience?

Authority:
Who is the author or organization behind the site?
Look for a link called About us, Philosophy, Mission, Background, Biography, etc.
What are the author's qualifications?
What connection does the author have with the sponsoring organization?

Currency:
Does the web site include a publication date or "last updated" date?
Is the information time sensitive?
For medical or legal data, this is especially useful.

Objectivity:
Is it biased?
Does the author express their own opinion?
What is goal of the information presented?

Purpose:
Does it inform, explain, teach, persuade, sell, entice, etc?

What can the URL tell you?

Domain Names

The URL (Universal Resource Locator, or web site address) can be a clue to publisher & reliability of the web site; some common suffixes are:
.edu: Some connection to an educational institution. Usually the most reliable. Be aware that the ~ (tilde) in a URL is a clue that you are viewing an individual's web page.
.org: Sponsored by a non-profit organization. May have some bias. A careful user may glean useful information.
.gov: Government agency & may provide the only source for some information, such as census data.
.mil: U.S. Department of Defense.
.com: Commercial entity. It may be trying to sell you something. Be wary of using these sites for research.
.net: Officially reserved for network associations such as ISPs, but in practice anyone can register a .net name.
.htm: New domains, either coming soon or are already in use.
International Web Sites Country codes often follow the domain name indicating where the site is based. Rarely used for U.S. sites. Optional for other countries. For example, the country code suffix for Japan is .jp, but a Web site in Japan can choose not to include this code.

Taking URLs Apart

Manipulate the URL to dig deeper into the Web site.
http://www.ees.nmt.edu/tobin/projects.html
http://www.ees.nmt.edu/tobin/

Directory names are located between slashes (/) and do not contain any extensions such as .html, .htm, or .shtml.

"Back-up" the address until you reach the stem address that usually includes the machine name, institution identifier, and domain name.

Identify all the elements; evaluate the document using the guidelines listed above.

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