Evaluating websites

The World Wide Web (www), what we often incorrectly refer to as the Internet, is filled with all sorts of stuff. Much of it is interesting and useful; much of it is commercial and ceaselessly trying to sell you an almost infinite range of products; and much of it is just junk – there are sites filled with the naughty, the nasty, the hateful, the misguided, and the misinformed. So how does a person navigate all this stuff? How do you tell what is legitimate versus what is illegitimate?

To begin: there are still several ways to search for information. Do not feel that you are limited to www.google.com (Links to an external site.) even though, throughout its history, Google has swallowed up other companies or driven them out of business. It is, of course, the best-known search engine, but it is not the only one available. Some useful search engines to try are: www.ask.com (Links to an external site.) and www.yahoo.com (Links to an external site.). You might also try www.dogpile.com (Links to an external site.) or www.hotbot.com (Links to an external site.) just for laughs.

Some general words of advice about using what you find:

  • Generally speaking, you can trust most of what comes out of a university website (.edu) and most of what comes out of a government website (.gov) as well as museum websites (.museum). ALL other websites are suspect! What do the other common abbreviations stand for?
  • edu = education (two-year or four-year college)
  • gov = government (city, county, state, or federal)
  • com = commerce (a site devoted to selling you something)
  • net = internet (simply a site on the internet)
  • org = organization (a nonprofit organization – may or may not be benign)
  • htm/html = hypertext markup language (simply a site on the internet)
  • mil = military (armed forces)
  • museum = national and international museums
  • (country) = sites are identified by their country’s initials (e.g., uk = united kingdom)
  • Now, some of you may be tempted to use a site called “Wikipedia.” Please be aware that, although the site is interesting and often provides detailed, accurate information, on the whole it is unreliable. It is the fastest growing encyclopedia in the world, precisely because experts from around the world can add the latest information to that site. Its great strength as a site is that anyone can add content. Unfortunately, that is also the site’s greatest weakness. Because anyone can add to the site, much of the information listed on Wikipedia is unverified (not yet checked for accuracy, or the information provided may be inaccurate or simply misinformed). There are people out there who have hidden (or not so hidden) agendas or who are simply biased or misinformed who spread their inaccuracies on the internet. Wikipedia is a great place to visit to gain information and get an overview on a subject. However, it is definitely not a scholarly site. Therefore, although interesting to visit, it is not a site on which you should rely. In an academic paper, simply never, ever, ever refer to it or cite it as a source. It is simply considered unacceptable.
  • On the same note, although you may want to use online notes such as: Cliff Notes, Spark Notes, Monkey Notes, or Barron’s Notes, these are also considered unacceptable to use as a reference. Never, ever refer to them in an academic paper. You may use them to increase your own understanding, but these sites are not a substitute for reading the original material. They are also considered unacceptable – and most teachers will assume that if you refer to these sites you have merely read a summary of the original material and have not read the original material. Teachers view this as a sign of academic laziness. Please be aware: If you use and cite any sort of notes or essay sources (shmoop, enotes, sparknotes, easy essay, etc.) the grade on your paper will be lowered one to two full letter grades.) Do not ever cite these in an academic paper.

So, you might ask, “How do I determine whether or not a website is reliable?” That’s a good question. Here’s where this task comes into play. In order to learn how to determine whether or not a website is legitimate, please visit the following three reference websites and read their content until you really understand them.

Reference websites: Please read through these before beginning your first task.

  1. Binghamton University’s webpage evaluation (Links to an external site.)
  2. Guideline for evaluating web pages (Cornell University) (Links to an external site.)
  3. New Mexico State University’s guide (Links to an external site.)

These websites (above) teach several criteria for judging every kind of website. Please use the criteria on these websites to judge the other websites you visit.

The Assignment

For EACH of the following websites, I would like you to do two things.

  • Next to each URL (the www.website.com address), please tell me whether that site is VALID or INVALID.
  • Then, in one sentence, please tell me WHY/HOW you determined the validity of the site (using the criteria from the reference sites provided in the reference sites listed above as well as your own common sense).
    1. For example, you might write: Site XYZ is an INVALID site because it lacks the quality of ______. I know that because I could not find_______.”
  • Regardless of the criteria, don’t forget to use common sense!

Your responses should be very brief — one sentence for each website.

All the links should work. If a link does not work (as sometimes happens), please try to find the appropriate site on your own. Of course, please let me know so that I may take care of it. Here are the sites I want you to visit:

  1. http://www.dhmo.org (Links to an external site.)
  2. http://www.lhup.edu/~DSIMANEK/dhmo.htm (Links to an external site.)
  3. http://www.whitehouse.net (Links to an external site.)
  4. http://www.whitehouse.com (Links to an external site.)
  5. http://www.whitehouse.gov (Links to an external site.)
  6. http://www.malepregnancy.com (Links to an external site.)
  7. http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu (Links to an external site.)
  8. http://www.martinlutherking.org (Links to an external site.)
  9. http://www.alaska.net/~clund/e_djublonskopf/Flatearthsociety.htm (Links to an external site.)
  10. http://home.inreach.com/kumbach/velcro.html (Links to an external site.)
  11. http://www.bandersnatch.com/guide.htm (Links to an external site.)
  12. http://zapatopi.net/treeoctopus (Links to an external site.)
  13. http://www.furnetics.com/about.html (Links to an external site.)
  14. http://www.wingmakers.com (Links to an external site.)