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ENGL 101 - English Composition I - Schmidt

Basic Web Searches for General Information

decorativeInformation, whether you find it on a library database or through a web search, needs to be looked at to determine if the information being presented is accurate and reflective of what it portrays itself to be. If someone claims to be an authority on thermodynamics, how do you establish that they are what they say they are when you know nothing about thermodynamics? If they are sharing a point of view, whether you agree or disagree, how do you separate the logical from the looney? By looking at who wrote something and trying to understand why it was written you can start to explore the web with a discerning eye!

It is very important to look for information on the web that is:

  • Authoritative - the author is sufficiently qualified to provide accurate information
  • Accurate - provides information that is based on verifiable facts, meaning that you can easily determine something to be true
  • Objective - provides information that is minimally biased, fair, balanced, and reasonable
  • Current - the time something is published as related to the currency of the topic

How to Evaluate a Source

How to apply evaluation to a source
Criteria How to check for the criteria:
Accurate
  1. If a fact is presented, search online for that fact to see if other places are providing the same information.
  2. Look at the bottom of the page for citations or links to other reliable sources. Click them to see if they are really saying the same thing. 
Authoritative
  1. If an individual author is given:
    1. See if you can click on their name. Sometimes a short bio is provided that explains their background and education.
    2. Search their name online. If they have written other things on the same topic, earned awards, or work for an institution you trust, they are likely an authority on the topic. You may need to add additional search terms for common names.
  2. If no individual author is given:
    1. Look around the edges of the page for an organization or government agency. If you have heard of that organization or agency in a positive light and related to this topic, you are likely looking at an authoritative page.
    2. Search for that organization online to see if someone from their organization has ever been interviewed or if it shows up in the news.
Objective
  1. Look for a link that says something like "About Us" or "Mission Statement". These will often give you an idea of whether or not they are trying to sell something or support a cause. 
  2. Be aware of language that is aimed at evoking strong emotions. A comprehensive list of high emotion words and the emotional state they aim to trigger can be found at The Persuasion Revolution
Current
  1. Look around the edges of the page and under the title for a date. This can be a copyright date, posted on date, or last updated date.
  2. If links are provided, look at those links. If they are no longer working, the page might be old.