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Using the internet: Using the Internet

How to evaluate websites?

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Introduction

How do you know if the information you find on the internet is any good?
  • By applying the What, Why, When, Who, Where and How criteria you will be able to review the information you find and ensure that it is relevant and of high academic quality.

What was the website created for?

What is the purpose of the source?

  • Is it written from a biased perspective or does it offer an objective viewpoint? (View an example)
  • Has it been written from a commerical, political or overtly emotional perspective?
  • Is it sponsored by a company or political organization?
  • Another quick way to check the value of a site is to look at the other websites that link to it. So is it linked to a variety of academic sources or a number of biased sources?

Why was the website created?

  • Why does it exist?
  • Why was it published?
  • Is it trying to convince you of a particular view?

When was the website last updated?

  • When was the item produced?
  • Is the information up to date?
  • When was the website last updated?

Who owns the site and who posts content on it?

  • Is the author identified or anonymous? If they are anonymous ask yourself why?
  • Can you see if the author is an academic? An expert in their field? If you are not sure carry out a quick google search for the author to see if they are attached to a University.
  • Has the author written other books or journal articles that demonstrate their knowledge of the subject?
  • Who is the information aimed at? General public, students, researchers, academic staff?
  • Is there a bibliography at the end of the document citing all the sources referred to in the document?

By asking the above questions you can determine if the author is qualified to write about a subject and wether to use it as a source in your own work.

Where has the content come from?

  • Where was it published?
  • Is it a news article, information from a personal blog or papers from a research group?
  • If the article has been published in a peer reviewed journal then it has been quality assured by experts.

How was the data collected?

  • How was the data collected to inform this source? This should indicate its accuracy.
  • If no sources of date are named then how do you know where the information comes from? It can't be verified.
  • Are the conclusions backed up by verified data and references to academic sources?

Types of websites

Looking at the URL will will indicate the type of organization it is and will give you an idea of the authority, relevance, purpose and the intended audience of the site:

  • .edu - an US educational website e.g. www.hbs.edu
  • .ac - a UK educational website e.g. www.library.manchester.ac.uk
  • .gov - a government website e.g. www.gov.uk
  • .com - a business or commercial site - www.amazon.co.uk
  • .eu - a website of the European Union - europa.eu
  • .net - Internet Service Providers (ISPs) - www.asp.net
  • .org - a non profit organization e.g. www.oxfam.org.uk
  • .mil - a military website e.g. www.navy.mil

Why use certain websites?

  • Professional / Industry Associations: represent a specific profession or industry. Some associations will produce regular reports, bulletins or statistics which they publish online and can be useful for understanding professional/industry trends.
  • Government Websites: produce a wealth of information available freely online including government policy, legislation, consultation reports, analysis and statistics. Most governments will have an official statistics site providing publications and datasets for socio-economic and demographic trends. eg: Office of National Statistics, Eurostats, Fedstats
  • Company Websites: can often provide useful overview of a company and products/services available. Public company websites will have an Investor Relations section providing annual/interim reports, directors reports, share performance and presentations.
  • Non-Profit Organisations: charities or non-governmental agencies will often produce plans, reports and/or statistics data available freely online. Data will vary depending on the size of the organisation but agencies such as UNIDO, UNESCO, United Nations and World Bank produce a wealth of statistical data and reports.

My Learning Essentials

Finding the good stuff: evaluating your sources
To get the best marks in your assignments it is vital that you evaluate the literature that you are including to ensure that it is relevant and quality assured. This online resource will equip you with the skills you need to identify high-quality resources to use in your academic work.

Knowing where to look: your search toolkit

There are so many places to search for information to include in your academic work, it can often be difficult to know where to start. To enable you to make an informed choice when selecting where to search for information, this resource explores Google, Google Scholar, subject databases and Library Search, highlighting their strengths and weaknesses.

View all workshops and online resources in this area on the
My Learning Essentials webpages.

Should I use Google?

Should I use Wikipedia?

Yes, Wikipedia is a good place to start when you are trying to get an idea of a particular subject area. However its not generally considered a high quality academic resource so if you are going to use it then think about the following points:

  • Anybody can publish information on Wikipedia and you won't know who the publisher is and what their level of expertise is in the subject. It is not an authoritative resource.
  • The information could be out of date and it could have been deliberately posted to mislead the user.
  • At University you are expected to use academic sources of high quality information in your work e.g. journal articles and textbooks written by experts in their field that you can source from the library databases and Library Search. Although you can find some academic journal articles on Wikipedia, the key resources for "peer reviewed" journal articles are the subject databases that the Library subscribes to.
  • Wikipedia adopts a NPOV (Neutral Point of View) as part of its editorial processes. They aim to "represent…all significant views on each topic fairly, proportionately, and without bias.” it is difficult to maintain a site without bias especially with controversial issues and on pages that are updated constantly.
  • Read the following article from Jimmy Wales "Wikipedia founder discourages academic use of his creation"
Creative Commons Licence This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International Licence.

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