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SCI 360 Great Issues in Science and Society: Using web sites

Google

It is okay to start looking for information using Google (or internet search engine of your choice). 

However, if you are expected to do a thorough literature search, you should consider using some of the scholarly databases provided by the Purdue Libraries.

Evaluating web sites

In general, there is nothing wrong with using information you find on the Internet. However, if you do not take the time to evaluate a web site and understand who has created it, for what purpose, and where their "facts" come from, you might run into trouble. Here are some things you need to be able to talk about if we challenge your use of a particular web site:

  • Who created this site? What are the author's qualifications or credentials? Is the site authored by an organization or institution that endorses the page/site? You are looking for evidence, or lack thereof, of Authority, Reliability, and Credibility on behalf of the author(s).
  • If the authors are presenting information as facts (rather than opinion), how did they come by this information? If you wanted to do some fact checking, is there enough information included to track down their information sources? Look for links or citations to journal articles, government reports, etc. A bibliography of cited references can be a good sign.

  • How current is this page/site?  And, how important is currency important for your topic?
    • The importance of timeliness can vary. If there haven't been any new developments in a field, it might be okay for the information to be "old." Use your knowledge and/or compare with other information sources to determine how current information on a topic should be.
  • What audience is the author addressing? Is this reflected in writing style, vocabulary, or tone?
  • What is the purpose of the information? Determine this by reading the information. Consider:
    • Does the author express a particular point of view?
    • Does the author have a bias?  Note: Do not dismiss something simply because you detect the author's bias. If the information is useful use it, but make sure you indicate that you are aware of the author's bias.
    • Are the author's affiliations reflected in the message or content?
    • Do the associated or linked web pages have a bias?
    • Does the material inform? Persuade? Explain?
    • Is the information accurate/factual? Is there sufficient evidence?  What conclusions are drawn?

 

(modified from Guide by Jane Yatcilla)