Critically Evaluating Websites


Critically evaluating websites is a process
that takes time and practice to master. Here you’ll find basic tips for identifying
credible sources on the Internet that are suitable for an academic research paper. I’ll show you how determining Currency, Relevancy, Objectivity, Authority, and Quality can help you master evaluating information
you find online. Not currency like money, currency like time. You should be able to locate the date of publication or the date the website was most recently updated when finding things online. Information should be up to date and timely
for your topic. Relevancy is key. Not only should an author’s credentials be relevant to the topic he or she is writing on, but the information you’re looking for should be relevant to the topic of your paper. Authors often have their own agendas and biases, like selling products or advocating for legislation. Consider whether an author’s information Speaking of that author, who or what is it? Always look for clues that an author is an
expert who is qualified to write on the topic. Ensuring a website is of high quality is perhaps
one of the simplest skills when it comes to critical evaluation. Typos, unprofessional fonts or colors, and
inappropriate images are clues that a website might be of poor quality. Let’s say I’m writing a research paper
on “Healthy Water” and these websites turned up in my search results. Let’s look at site first and try to determine
its credibility. Is it clear when was this site created or
most recently updated? Not really. On a couple of pages, there’s a copyright
date of 2016; however, that’s the date for the website itself and not necessarily the
date associated with the information found on the site. That’s a clue that it may not be current. There are some resources listed. Unfortunately, they all seem to be out of
date, with the cited sources being published from 1962 to 1998. Sure, healthy water is being discussed so
it’s relevant to my topic, but we still need to ask some deeper questions. Like, how objective is this source? Here we see opportunities to purchase advertising
space as well as links to buy booklets, articles, and other multimedia. If a site’s purpose includes convincing
visitors to buy things, chances are the site is not objective. Next, who are the authors of this content
and are they credible? Martin Fox, Ph.D. is the only name listed. His brief bio is included on the website,
but it does not list any relevant credentials. I’d need to do further research to figure
out where he earned his PhD and if that advanced degree is in a field related to healthy water,
like hydrology or microbiology. Finally, is the information found here of
high quality? Sources are provided in the reference section,
but they are not timely. Additionally, varying fonts, colors, and images
are used. There are also multiple broken links that
lead to error pages. This site is not intended for serious research,
nor is primary research a part of its mission. Let’s take another look at those search
results. This page is sponsored by the CDC: Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention. As the leading national public health institute
of the United States, the CDC is a federal agency under the Department of Health and
Human Services and is an organization with a long research history. If we scroll to the bottom of the page, we
can see the dates of review and maintenance. There is also an option to receive emails
when the content is updated, that’s an attempt to make sure visitors of this site have the
most timely information. These things help to determine the currency
of the information on this site. We can also click the “For Specific Groups”
button, which leads to a page with detailed information on the purpose and intended audiences
of this website. This helps to determine the most pages within
the site that are most relevant to my topic. Though there are images found throughout the
website, they are all relevant to the topic of water. The fonts and colors being used are all professional
in nature as well. There are multiple healthy water topic areas
we can explore. If I click on any topic area, like “Drinking
Water”, I can find various publications, data, and statistics on the topic. This title seems interesting. This report on led in drinking water includes
a wealth of current information that has been cited properly. The corresponding author is clearly listed
along with her credentials, and I can use the contact information listed to perform
even more research to make sure she’s an expert in this field. Yet another clue that this site provides high
quality information. Throughout the pages on this website, including
the home page, notice there’s no advertising or any claims putting forth a biased agenda. The site’s sole purpose is to provide research-based
information on all aspects of healthy water, using statistics and in-depth research. That suggests the information is as objective
as possible and free of bias. So, this site is current. Its information is relevant to my research
topic of healthy water. The information we found was written objectively. We can easily identify the authors and creators
of research, and the information has been reviewed and maintained to ensure the highest
quality. Keep in mind that there’s no single indicator
of the quality or credibility of a website. Critically evaluating websites means asking
these important questions and finding their answers BEFORE you decide to include and cite
the information you find in your own research. The quality of your paper and your own credibility
as an author depend on how well you’re able to critically evaluate information sources. And remember, if you need additional research
help, be sure to visit our Ask Us page! library.vcu.edu/askus

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