How To Evaluate A Web Site

Millions of people use computers to access the latest online information. But how valid are Web sources? Here are some evaluative criteria.

Around the world, millions of people log on to the computer each day to search the Internet for information about a variety of topics. Recipes, car care, political diatribe, and inspirational messages can be accessed with a few clicks. Students search the Web for academic research, while business people surf for data, figures, and trends.

How valid is any of this information? As you browse a variety of sites, you may wonder whether you can trust the source. Some sites are posted by underage children, while others are posted by world-class organizations. If you're wondering how to figure out which information is reliable, here are some pointers to help you evaluate the sites you visit:

1. Who hosts it? Look for the name(s) of those who write, edit, post, or sponsor the site. When you find the names of these people, determine if they hold titles, degrees, or positions that provide the credentials you may be looking for. If all you need is a recipe, a chef's standing may not be required for helping you cook an egg casserole. But if you're looking for a stock market recommendation, financial expertise should be a must. Also look for affiliations with sponsoring organizations.



2. What is the site's purpose? Is it trying to sell viewers a product or service? Does it offer opinionated perspectives? Is it attempting to provide persuasive, encouraging, or alarming facts to the general public? Sites are posted for a variety of reasons, so find out the purpose behind any that you are thinking about taking seriously.

3. How current is the information? You may be able to find the original posting date as well as current updates on the homepage or "about the author" links. If you don't see these details, consider contacting the Webmaster if the site is important to you. Statistics posted four years ago may not continue to be relevant for today, so check this out unless you are looking for timeless ideas, such as religious encouragement or philosophical musings.

4. Who are the sponsors? If the site contains ads, look at who is advertising there. This will give you some idea of the slant of the site's content. For example, beer or cigarette ads often support entertainment content. Learning support ads work with educational sites. While there can be a great deal of cross-over, you also may find patterns that will help you identify the goal of the site.

5. What is the site's style? Is it humorous or straightforward, although written in simple sentences and basic vocabulary, to reach a general readership? Or is it a hard-hitting political analysis or social rights commentary, with strong words and definite right- or left-wing angle? Does the language seem to have a playful or a hard edge? After reading the home page and browsing additional links, you will have a better idea of how to interpret the information.

Surfing the Web can be fun and enlightening. Take time to analyze the sites you visit to see if their purpose meshes with yours.

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