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Physical Geography: Evaluate Sources

Guide for research assignment for GEOG 101: Physical Geography (Christine Hansell)

Evaluating Web Pages

How do you know information from a Web page is true, accurate and of reasonable quality?

Although publishers, editorial boards or reviewers usually decide whether books or published articles are accurate and of decent enough quality to be published, anyone can create a Web page with no screening at all; so it is especially important to evaluate information from the Internet. The questions below should be asked when evaluating any web page. They can provide some useful guidelines and criteria to help you evaluate the quality and reliability of web pages.

1) Who is the author(s) that created the page?

Responsible web publications should name the creator of the information in a readily visible place on the page. Is the author an organization? Is an author not given? (What about Wikipedia articles? Click here for an explanation.)

If one or more individuals have written the page,is biographical information about the author(s) available?

  • What are the author's QUALIFICATIONS or CREDENTIALS? What is his/her/their background in terms of education, experience, occupation, position, affiliation, publications, etc. Do these make him/her/they an expert?
  • Can you discern anything about the CREDIBILITY or REPUTATION of the author?
  • Do a Google search of the author’s name. Can you find web pages that provide reliable information about the person? (LinkedIn pages can be one good place to find someone’s experience and education.)
  • For academic sources, authors should have an M.A. or PhD. degree in the subject area of the source or they should be a professional journalist with experience writing for reputable publications (magazines or newspapers)

2) What is the purpose of the website (or the organization or publication sponsoring the website)?

  • What is the basic purpose of the site? To inform? Explain? Persuade? Market a product? Advocate a cause? Satirize a person, organization, or idea? Are the history, nature, and/or purpose of the page/site described?
  • Look for a link to “HOME” (or the title of the larger website) and click on it
  • Look for a link such as “About”, “About Us”, or "Who We Are" to find a description and background of the organization, publication or site, including its purpose, history and who are its leaders.
    • Is it a relatively impartial group (like a university or government agency) or a group established to promote certain ideas or a point of view (e.g. non-profit organizations or a political party)?
    • Do a Google search of the organization’s name. Can you find web pages (e.g. a Wikipedia article) that provide reliable information about the organization?
  • If there’s no “home” link, try shortening the URL one subdirectory at a time and pressing <Enter>. This will sometimes bring you to the larger website that your page is part of.

Identify the type of site

  • scholarly (written by researchers or experts in the field) See: popular magazines vs. academic journals
  • professional (written by and primarily for those in a specific profession)
  • popular (written for the general public) See: popular magazines vs. academic journals
  • advocacy (promoting particular opinions/causes), including blogs
  • commercial (promoting/selling services or products, or including advertisements for products or services -- some sites might be a combination of some of the above types.)

Identify the domain type within the URL

This is can be a key factor when evaluating a site since it often indicates the type of site where the information originates. The most common domain types are:

  • .edu: college or university (usually reliable, but can range from scholarly research to students’ personal pages
  • .gov: a government body (usually very reliable, but sometimes may have a political bias)
  • .org: a non-profit organization (may have very good information but may be promoting particular ideas)
  • .com: a commercial enterprise (may be trying to sell or promote a product or service or display advertising, but also can be very credible organizations or publications, e.g.
  • .net: originally for networking organizations, such as internet service providers, but now often used as an alternative to .com

3) Evaluate the content

Evaluate the research quality of this page by reviewing the content being presented:

Criteria 1: Length and substance of the text: Does this page provide a substantive, in-depth discussion of the topic, or merely a cursory, superficial overview? Is this a brief “sound-bite,” or a longer, more in-depth analysis? (In general, a page with less than about 10 medium-length paragraphs of text would be considered brief.)

Criteria 2: Author’s purpose: Is this a straightforward summary or overview of the topic, such as you would find in an encyclopedia article? Or is the author presenting a new interpretation, view, or explanation of the topic?

Criteria 3: Academic quality and reading level of the text: Is this a serious, complex, detailed, academic treatment of the topic, or is it lighter “popular” discussion geared for the general public?

Criteria 4: Originality of the text: Is this original writing, or is it copied and compiled from other sources and websites? Is this primarily a list of links?

Criteria 5: Objectivity: Is the text primarily personal opinion rather than an objective discussion? If the text is primarily opinion, is this clearly stated, i.e. is the author clear about the fact that he/she is presenting a subjective view of the topic? Does the author acknowledge that there might be other worthy points of view?

Criteria 6: Sources & Documentation: Where did the author gather the information presented? Was it from original research, experiments, observation, interviews, books and documents? If lots of factual information is given, does the author cite his/her sources? Verify that the author used authoritative sources to back up his/her arguments and conclusions.

Criteria 7: Currency: Is the information or the site itself out of date?

Criteria 8: Writing style:Is the content free of grammatical, spelling, and typographical errors?

Based on your answers to the previous questions, do you feel the individual(s) and/or organization responsible for this web page is/are qualified to be presenting information on this topic and is the content credible and academic quality?