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Research 101: Web Sources

Information on the research process.

Web Sites and Information Evaluation

When we use library databases we usually find information that we can categorize by source type and this helps us evaluate these sources. Web sources are not so easily categorized and we must rely more on applying a set of standards to evaluate the information. Consult Using Evaluation Criteria to learn about using Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose as standards for evaluating sources.

Investigating Web Sites

You may have to search to find the information you need to evaluate a Web site. Places to look include:

  • the page's header or footer
  • an About Us or similar link
  • a home page link

You can also try truncating or lopping off the end of a site's URL to get to the home page. (For example delete research_and_citation/using_research/documents/20180719CitationChart.pdf from the following URL

Domain Names

The top-level domain name of a site's Web address or URL can provide information about what type of organization produced a site. Some common domain names are:

.com--commercial enterprises
.gov--governmental agencies
.edu--educational, colleges and universities
.org--other organizations, including non-profit sties

You cannot use domain names alone to evaluate sites, but they do provide useful information. Gov and edu addresses can indicate quality sites as their purpose is often to inform and educate the public, rather than to influence opinion or sell products.

Not Enough Information

Sometimes Web sites do not provide enough information for you to evaluate them as information sources. In these cases, you should not rely on the site for your research. The site may give you ideas for avenues of research, but you will want to verify the information in more credible sources.

Web vs. Library Sources

Web Sources

Library Sources (Databases & Catalogs)

Accessed via a search engine (Google, Yahoo!, Bing, etc.).

Accessed through library Web site.

Most information is free.

Access paid for by tuition and taxes.

Open access permits anyone to participate.

Editors and publishers control participation.

Information organization and information quality are highly variable.

Source types (books, magazines, journals, etc.) can be identified and this information helps in the evaluation process.

Review process is highly variable.

Sources usually undergo an editorial process.

May be difficult to locate information on who created or sponsored the site and the currency of the information.

Often easier to find information on authors, editors, publishers, and the currency of the information.

Example Web Sites

Consult Using Evaluation Criteria to learn about using the criteria Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose to evaluate sources. Then try your hand at applying the five criteria to any of the example Web sites listed below. Consider how these Web sites would work for various research purposes.

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