Information On The Internet: Think Critically
Sources of information on the internet range from reputable (such as Library of Congress) to the flamboyant (such as the National Enquirer). This fact underscores the need for thinking critically about everything you see online. Taking a few simple precautions when you surf the internet can keep you from getting unreliable misinformation.
Look For Overall Quality
Examine the features of the website in general. Look at the effectiveness of the text and visuals as a whole. Note how well the site is organized and if you can navigate the site's features with ease. Look for the date that crucial information was posted, and determine how often the website is updated.
Next, take a more detailed look at the site's content. Examine several of the site's pages and look for consistency of facts, quality information, along with grammar and spelling. Are the links easy to follow?
Also evaluate the site's links to related web pages. Look for links to webpage of reputable organizations. Click on a few of those links. If they lead you to dead ends, this might indicate a site is not updated often-and one that is not a reliable source for late-breaking information.
Look At The Source
Think about the credibility of the person or organization that posts a website. Look for a list of author credentials and publications. Notice evidence of bias or special interest. Perhaps the site's sponsoring an organization wants you to buy a service, product, or point of view. The domain in the Uniform Resource Locator (URL) for a website can give you clues about sources of information and possible bias. For example: distinguish among information from a for-profit commercial enterprise (URL ending in .com); a nonprofit organization (.org); a government agency (.gov); and a school, college, or university (.edu).
Note: Peer-edited sites such as Wikipedia do not employ editors to screen out errors and scrutinize questionable material before publication. Do not use these sites when researching a paper or presentation.
Look For Documentation
When you come across an assertion on a web page or some other internet resource, note the types and quality of the evidence offered. Look for credible examples, quotations from authorities in the field, documented statistics, or summaries of scientific studies.
Access several popular search sites on the web, such as:
Alta Vista: www.altavista.com
Then choose a specific topic that you would like to research-preferably one related to a paper or other assignment you have to complete. Identify key words for this topic and enter them in several search sites. (Open a new window or tab in your browser for each site.) Be sure to use the same key words each time you search.
Next, evaluate the search sites by comparing the results that you got and the following factors:
- simplicity of the site's design and use
- number of results you got
- presence of duplicate results
- quality of results-that is, their relevance to your topic
- number of sponsored results (links to the search sites advertisers or paid sponsors) and how clearly these results are identified
- number of results that are "dead" links (leading you to inactive websites)
- options for doing advanced searches and the ease of using those options