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WGST 3V95

Evaluating Information Online

 

Question mark

 

Your professor says it’s okay to use websites, as long as they are credible. But what does this mean?

How can you find out if a website could be used in your paper?

Typically, your professor means that the site must be AUTHORITATIVE, meaning the author must have some AUTHORITY on the topic at hand.

 

Mountie saluting

 

Ok, but what does AUTHORITY mean?

So here’s the bad news: there are no hard and fast rules.
But that’s okay! You are a university student: you can do this. You will use your impressive powers of analysis and critical thinking to tackle this challenge. 

Bottom line: don’t take anything at face value. Be a bit of a detective & dig deeper. 

Ask yourself the following 3 questions:


Puzzle pieces

1. What am I looking at? What is this?

This is your first step. Asking yourself these types of questions will help you evaluate information found on the web.

These days, this is actually pretty tricky. Almost everything is on the internet. You could be looking at a newspaper article from the New York Times, a report from the United Nations, or an eBook that you got to from the library website or Sakai.

This lesson is focused on materials found using the ‘open web’ likely via Google or Yahoo. So, not links from a scholarly search engine like Google Scholar, SuperSearch, or another library tool. 


2. What is the context of your inquiry?

Is a blog allowed? Is a tweet okay? 

Watch the following video:

 

What is the purpose of your research? What kind of question are you trying to answer? 

If you are studying contemporary fan culture, then sure, a Lady Gaga fan club tumblr could be appropriate.

If you are studying representations of women in Soviet art, a Russian art fan's instagram account is probably not a great source.

Bottom line: “It depends.” You need to determine if the material is trustworthy. 


Hand writing
 

3. Who created this content? Who is hosting this page?

An author can be an individual or an organization. Every piece of text has some kind of author!

To find out more about where the document comes from, look at the URL & try to determine the “root”.  This is usually the first chunk of text after the http:// and before the first backslash ( / ). 

For example:

Determine the root of the URL, then visit that page. It should be the homepage of the hosting person or organization. 

Are there any logos on the page? Does the header or the footer of the page give any clues?
Look for an 
“About Us” or "Contact" page.


Check your learning

You are doing research on misogyny in contemporary TV shows. You find the article, An Introduction to Misogyny in Popular Culture, at http://www.thefreeradical.ca/research/introToMisogynyInPopCultureSept2010.pdf 

Directions:

Go to the above website

Determine the root of the URL (in this case- http://www.thefreeradical.ca) and learn about the creator

Then select the correct answer to the statement in the box below

 

What are the indicators of authority? What are their ‘credentials’?

In a best case scenario, you’ll find a “byline” -- somewhere that explicitly tells you who wrote or created what you are looking at.
But you can’t stop there! Does the site tell you anything more about the author, his or her background and source of expertise on the topic? Is the author associated with an organization?

It’s up to you to verify.

Check your learning

You are looking for information about the legality of the "carding" policy used by police in Toronto. You find this article: http://rabble.ca/columnists/2015/04/carding-and-civilian-control-police

Directions:

Go to the above website 

Then select the correct answer to the two questions in the box below


The information you find out about the author doesn’t necessarily invalidate the site, but it does provide you with perspective. Read with skepticism.

Ask yourself: 

  • Why has this document been created? Is the purpose to teach, sell, promote, or entertain?
  • Is there an obvious bias? Consider the language and the tone. 
  • Does the author have citations? Or does the author refer to other sources to support their argument? 

This is a great approach for assessing any kind of material: videos, podcasts, Wikipedia pages. 

Do you prefer a nice memorable acronym?

Try the PARCA test, a memorable acronym for remembering how to evaluate online information .