Using Internet Resources

 

In this tutorial, we'll cover Internet resources, and the special steps you have to take in order to understand where they come from. An evaluation site from the New Mexico State University, Library, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, lists 5 criteria you'll have to ask yourself every time you consider using material from a webpage:

  • Authority: Is there an author? Is the page signed? Is the author qualified? An expert? Who is the sponsor? Is the sponsor of the page reputable? Is there a link to information about the author or the sponsor?
  • Accuracy: Is the information reliable and error-free? Is there an editor or someone who verifies/checks the information?
  • Objectivity: Does the information show a minimum of bias? Is the page designed to sway opinion? Is there any advertising on the page?
  • Currency: Is the page dated? If so, when was the last update? How current are the links? Have some expired or moved?
  • Coverage: What topics are covered? What does this page offer that is not found elsewhere? What is its intrinsic value? How in-depth is the material?

There are 4 big providers of information on the Internet, and each of them use a different ending in their domain name (the first part of the URL between the double // and the single / :

  • .gov documents come from government entities. Local, state, federal and international governments all use this ending.
  • .edu documents are from educational institutions - colleges, universities, and research entities like the Exploratorium.
  • .com documents are from commercial businesses. These are usually the people who are trying to sell you something.
  • .org documents come from nonprofit organizations, like the American Red Cross, the French Doctors without Borders, the Smoker's Rights Alliance and the National Heart & Lung Association.

A search in Google (for alternative medicine cancer) will give you a result list something like the one below. Notice the domain names are circled in each URL:

Understanding these domain name endings will make your job of evaluating much easier. The first entry, www.cancer.gov, is sponsored by the National Cancer Institute, funded by the U.S. government. The next two, www.cancer-info.com and www.immunemedicine.com, are both commercial organizations. The main purpose of these websites is probably to sell supplements or services.

The fourth entry, www3.cancer.org, is another government agency. The next one, www.mdanderson.org, is a nonprofit organization, and the last one, www.cancer.duke.edu is sponsored by the Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.

These clues are going to help you figure out the authority (who wrote it and what organization is sponsoring the website, or paying to maintain it), possibly the objectivity (if it's a commercial website, it might not be totally objective), and possibly the accuracy (if it's a student paper, posted on the web as a class assignment, we might not want to trust our lives to the accuracy of the information).

 

Another way to approach this problem of evaluating websites is to choose your sites from lists selected and managed by librarians or other experts in particular fields. The Librarians' Internet Index (LII) is a highly-respected professional list. Topics include current events and issues, helpful tools for information users, and more.You can browse or search through tens of thousands of entries, previewed and selected to assure currency, accuracy, authenticity, objectivity and broad coverage.

link to Librarians' Internet Index

You can search this site by following the subject directory (works best with broad, general topics that can be followed down more specific branches), or you can use the Search LII feature at the top of the page.

You'll still have to determine where each website is coming from, who wrote it, how current it is, and what kind of bias it will have. But the librarians at LII have at least narrowed down the list from thousands of possibly irrelevant or completely unreliable sources to a handful of current, clear sites coming from obvious points of view.


Please contact us at the Gavilan College Library Reference Desk if you have any questions. We are available during library hours at the reference desk, by telephone at 408-848-4806 or by email at reference@gavilan.edu.

 

Address of this page is http://www.gavilan.edu/library/tutorials/step3.html

Last Updated: 07/24/2006

Send questions or comments to reference@gavilan.edu