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English Literature: Selected Electronic Resources

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Evaluating Websites

Need to Evaluate

Most material on the Web has not been subjected to referees or editorial boards to ensure quality. Thus, with respect to Web material, always ask: "Can I trust it?" Anyone can post anything on the web. There is little filtering or refereeing process.

Thus, skilled researchers know they must carefully examine the diverse treatments of their subject, properly interpret research material, and address the frequency with which resources contradict each other.

Authorship; Purpose; Currency

Authorship

  • Who wrote it (if no author listed, then wonder why)? 
  • Do the author’s credentials, education, position held, experience relate to the topic? 
  • What is the domain name? This usually gives a hint about the producer/sponsor of the document.  Most common:

.edu for educational or research institution
.com for commercial enterprises or organizations
.org for nonprofit organizations
.net for networks
.gov for government agencies
.mil for military bodies

Purpose: Does the Content

  • Inform of new research?
  • Summarize the current status of a research project?
  • Persuade the reader to adopt a particular position on the subject?
  • Publicize something or sell a product (any advertisement might raise a red flag)?

Currency

  • When was the information first composed?
  • When was it placed on the web?
  • When was the site last revised and updated (look at the end of the page)?  
  • Do the links still work and, if so, are they up-to-date?  If the links do not work, it might indicate the information has not been recently updated. 
  • If the piece includes tables, charts, graphs, statistics are dates provided?

    Coverage; Audience; Accuracy; Structure

    Coverage

    • Does it provide in-depth or sketchy analysis of the topic?
    • How reliable is the information?
    • If it is a controversial subject, does the author acknowledge this?
    • Does the author provide details of research methods used?
    • Does the author make full and appropriate citation to other works used?
    • Can you detect any prejudice or bias?

    Audience

    • Who is the intended audience -- beginners, experts, professionals etc.
    • Is the information appropriately targeted or is it too elementary or too technical? 

    Accuracy

    • Is the information in the source a fact, an opinion or propaganda?  
    • Is the information well researched and free from error?  
    • Can the information be verified?
    • Can you discern any political, ideological, or religious bias?

    Structure

    • Is the site designed clearly and logically with well organized sections? Is it easy to navigate?
    • Is the web site stable; can you access it whenever you want?
    • Does the reader require a special password, ID, registration, pay a fee, etc. to access the document?
    • If there are graphics, audio, video, do they slow down transmission excessively?