Becoming a Better Student

Teaching your students how to evaluate web resources

Most of us tend to assume that any Web information turned up via a search engine has somehow been evaluated as part of a valid selection process. The truth is that the Internet is rampant with unreliable sites that reside side by side with reputable sites.  Anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can publish anything on the Web.

Unlike library-based research, however, the information at many sites has not undergone the editing or scrutiny of scholarly publication procedures. The information we read in journals and most reputable magazines is reviewed, authenticated, and evaluated. That's why we have learned to trust these sources as valid and authoritative.   But information on the Web is much less reliable. Some sites exist to distribute propaganda; others were created to sell something. For these reasons, anyone using the Web as a resource must scrutinize each site and its information carefully. Here are specific topics to consider and questions to ask when evaluating a site.

Currency. When was the Web page last updated. Is some of the information obviously out of date? If the information is time sensitive and the site has not been updated recently, the site is probably unreliable.

Authority. Who publishes or sponsors this Web page? What makes the presenter an authority? Is a contact address available for the presenter? Learn to be skeptical about data and assertions from individuals whose credentials are not verifiable.

Content. Is the purpose of the page to entertain, inform, convince, or sell? Based on content, tone, and style, who is the intended audience? Can you judge the overall value of the content compared with other resources on this topic? Web presenters with a slanted point of view cannot be counted on for objective data.

Accuracy. Do the facts seem reliable? Do you find errors in spelling, grammar, or usage? Do you see any evidence of bias? Are footnotes, endnotes, or source notes provided? If you find numerous errors and if "facts" are not referenced, you should be alert that the data may be questionable.

Mary Ellen Guffey, Business Communication: Process and Product, 3E                (Cincinnati: South-Western, 2000), Chapter 11.