Author: Barbara Christopher


The following are four ways to citically look at the content of a web page. At the end of each section is a Test Yourself exercise which will help you practice the techniques you have just learned. These exercises are important to your learning experience. Don't skip them!



1. Who is the author and publisher of the web page?

When investigating a web page, an obvious start is to find out who wrote the information on the page. The author could be publishing on his own or be writing for an organization.

The name of the author and the organization publishing the page is usually somewhere at the top, bottom or side of the web page, often with the copyright information. The author's name may not listed, but there should at least be information about the publisher. If this information is not on the web page, look for a link to a home page and search on that page. If there is no home page link, use the URL trimming technique (see #2 below.) Legitimate sources of information do not hide the author and publisher.

Test Yourself:

Click on these links and find the author and sponsor
for each web page.

1a. http://kclibrary.nhmccd.edu/decade60.html
1b. http://www.democrats.org/page/content/fightingdems/index/



Top | 1.Author | 2.URL | 3.Currency | 4.Reliability



2. What does the URL say about the author and/or publisher?

As part of your investigation of the author and publisher, look at the three letter ending of the domain name in a URL (the part between http:// and the first single slash.)

  • .edu (university,) .gov (US government,) and .mil (US military) extensions are always assigned to the organizations in the parentheses.
  • .org (non-profit organization,).com (company) .and net (network service provider such as an ISP) are usually owned by the organizations noted, but really anyone can purchase a name with those extensions.
  • The two letter extensions usually but not always are under the control of some country's government (for example, jp goes with Japan.)

The URL can often show if a web page is published by an individual rather than an organization. Signs to look for are personal names following a tilde (~) or the words "users", "members", or "people." Also check to see if the domain name is a commercial one that does a lot of web page hosting such as aol.com or geocities.com. A person can buy their own domain name, however, so be alert even if these other indicators are not present. Personally published pages are not necessarily bad, but it does mean there is no organization vouching for the information and you will need to investigate the author's credentials carefully.

To verify the host/publisher, trim back the address to the domain name and press the Enter key. For example, you might think the web page below is published by Eisenhower High School, but it is not. Click on it, trim back to the domain name (ikecentral.org) and find out who publishes this site. Again, legitimate sites do not hide their purpose.

http://www.ikecentral.org/alumni/alumupdates04.html

Test Yourself:

Click on the URLs for the following web pages. Determine who are the authors and sponsoring organizations for each page.

2a.
http://www.civilisations.ca/civil/maya/mmc06eng.html
2b. http://www.cmpharm.ucsf.edu/~paulb/research.html



Top | 1.Author | 2.URL | 3.Currency | 4.Reliability



3. How current is the information?

Look for a date at the top, bottom or side of the page to see when the web page was first created and when it was last updated. This information may be given with the copyright information. Undated factual or statistical information is pretty useless. Links that work are another indicator of an up-to-date web page.

Test Yourself:

Click on the URLs for the following web pages. Determine when the page was last updated

3a. http://seawifs.gsfc.nasa.gov/OCEAN_PLANET/HTML/peril_oil_pollution.html
3b. http://www.exploratorium.edu/frogs/mainstory/index.html


 


Top | 1.Author | 2.URL | 3.Currency | 4.Reliability



4. How reliable is the information?

Before you judge the quality of the information, consider why you are looking at the web page in the first place. If you are writing a research paper for a biology class, you want data that is dependable, objective and up-to-date. If you are writing an essay for a creative writing class, you welcome subjective opinions and quotes, perhaps from people long dead. Keep your goal in mind as you investigate credentials and documentation.

Look for the author's credentials at the top, bottom and sides of the page. Do they seem appropriate to the content of the page? Is he an "expert"? Other places to search for credentials are links that say "About," "Background," "Biography," and "Philosophy."And whether you found the author or not, go to the home page of the publisher. All web pages are influenced by the beliefs of their author or publisher. You need to know what these beliefs are and look for bias in the information. Also look up the author and publisher in a search engine such as Google. Be sure to consider the source when "Googling" someone.

If you see footnote numbers or links that refer to sources and documentation, take the time to explore them. If these links do not work, do not present opposing viewpoints, or do not lead to reliable sites, be wary of extreme bias and questionable documentation.

Investigate the page at alexa.com. Paste the URL in their search box and you will see:

  • contact information on the owner of the domain name
  • how long the page has been on the Internet
  • subjective reviews of the page
  • a link to the Wayback Machine which will show you
    what this page looked like in the past
  • sites that link to this page
  • sites that interest visitors to this page

Finally, step back and look at everything you have learned. Ask yourself if this page feels right. Be careful that your hopes do not bias your interpretation of the material. Beware if the views seem extreme or the information sounds too good to be true. Why was the page put on the web? Was its purpose to:

  • Inform (facts, data)
  • Explain
  • Persuade
  • Sell
  • Entice
  • Share or disclose
  • Entertain (comedy, satire, trickery)

Test Yourself:

Click on the URLs for the following web pages. Describe the author's qualifications and background. If no author is listed, describe the purpose and principles of the publisher. Do thorough research. Go beyond the page's simple declarations. Be suspicious.

4a. http://www.sierraclub.org/forests/notforsale/
4b. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/pyramid/explore/age.html
4c. http://www.dinosauria.com/jdp/archie/therizin.html



Top | 1.Author | 2.URL | 3.Currency | 4.Reliability


These pages were developed through TeacherTECH, the teacher professional development component of GirlTECH, which is sponsored by the Center for Excellence and Equity in Education (CEEE) and made possible by support from the National Science Foundation and Rice University.

Copyright © 2006 by Barbara Christopher
Updated: Monday, July 31, 2006 6:32 PM
URL = http://teachertech.rice.edu/Participants/bchristo/lessons/evalwebsites/investigate.html