Critiquing Web Resources: How to Separate Good Data from Bad
If you recognize the source and are sure that particular source is running the site, you are likely to be on solid ground. Don’t forget, though, that some of the people who are running sites are trying to confuse you: http://www.amnesty-tunisia.org/ and www.amnesty.org/tunisia, for instance, carry opposing messages. Don’t forget that hackers can sometimes commandeer legitimate sites.
- Check to see if the site is objective or at least takes account of opposing viewpoints.
- Pay close attention to when a site was most recently updated. To check, go to http://www.betterwhois.com and paste in the URL. Scroll down until you come to the line that says Last Updated.
Gauge a site’s credibility by seeing who runs it.
To check, go to http://www.betterwhois.com and paste in the URL. Scroll down until you come to the part with the Sponsoring Registrar. If you can get an idea of who runs the site, you can better judge its information.
Pay attention to a site’s address or URL
- Check whether they end with .com (commercial), .org (technically for nonprofit organizations), .gov (for government), .net (for network) or .edu (for educational). Some .edu sites describe bona fide research, others are individual home pages of people affiliated with the institution. Anyone at all can have a .com or .org site. Try to find out more about a site by deleting parts of the address from right to left.
- Look for a tilde (~) in a Web site’s address. A tilde is often the sign of a personal home page. The tilde might occur in a .edu address, suggesting that the page’s owner is a professor or student at a college or university. Often a clue that a site is a personal page is an address that includes “geocities”, “tripod” or “members.aol.com”.
Consider contacting a Web site owner directly
Contact can be made using an email address or phone number from the site, or perhaps using the fruits of your InterNIC search. Beware of sites that offer no address or do not respond.
Pay attention to links and references to related/additional information/sources.
A good page not only has internal links but also points outward to other parts of information.
- Look for sites that refer to print and other off-line resources.
- Look for sites like Cnet.com that include a page of corrections
- Beware of site with lots of spelling and grammatical errors
Lack of attention to such detail could indicate less-than-rigorous content.
Adapted from “How to Separate Good Data from Bad,” by Tina Kelley, The New York Times, March 4, 1999; updated August 2008