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ENGL 3030: Evaluating Sources

Introduction to Rhetorical Studies

Evaluating Web Sites

When viewing a web page yourself, Use the following 5 questions to evaluate the information provided by a Web page to determine its credibility:

1. Who Created the Web Page?

  • Is the author/creator identified?
  • What are their qualifications?
  • Have you heard of them?
  • Do they provide contact information?
  • Does the website indicate a source of funding?

2. When Did They Create it?

  • Does the page tell you when it was created?
  • Is it updated? How often?
  • Does it need to be updated?

3. Why Did They Create it?

  • What purpose does this Web page serve?
  • What does the author get out of creating it?
  • What does this tell you about the reliability of the information this site offers?

4. What Perspective does it Represent?

  • What point of view does the site emphasize: For example, if the site deals with abortion, is it Pro-Life, Pro-Choice, or neutral?
  • Is the site reasonable or strident in tone? Does it support its arguments with facts or with rhetoric?
  • What issues doesn't the site address?

5. Is the Information Reliable?

  • How does it fit with what you've found elsewhere?
  • Is the information supported with references or sources?
  • Is the site well edited as far as spelling and grammar?
  • Does the site emphasize image (such as flashy graphics) over substance (quality content)?

URLs

Look at the site’s Web address (URL): In particular, examine the last three letters:

  • .com = commercial Web sites. The best known type of URL, .com Web addresses originally signified for-profit company Web sites, such as Microsoft.com. Some .com pages are maintained by individuals, not necessarily to make money. See Ciolek.com for an information oriented .com site. Most major news organizations, such as CNN, also use .com Web addresses. Dotcom addresses have become so widespread that even some non-profit organizations now use them. For example, North Carolina state government has adopted the URL ncgov.com. Dotcom sites are often sources of reliable information, but not necessarily. Evaluate each one individually.
  • .edu = college and university Web sites. Most official .edu pages would be considered reliable sources.  If a tilde (~) should appear in the URL, however, this often indicates a student or faculty member's personal Web page, which can vary greatly in quality. A good example of a reliable personal page would be one created by a faculty member in their area of expertise, such as this one from Webster University.
  • .gov = US Government Web sites. Offer similar content to what most agencies provide in print. Information oriented. Usually treated as acceptable sources for academic papers. The official FBI site is an example of a federal government Web site.

  • .org = organization Web sites (not necessarily non-profit). Often contain excellent information, but many are created in support of a specific position or agenda. Analyze their contents carefully. The National Abortion Rights Action League is an example of a .org advocacy site. Sites like this one and the National Rifle Association can be good sources of information on a topic, but you must be careful to take their bias into account. Reformation.org is an example of an extremist advocacy site. Public Agenda an example of a non-profit, non-advocacy dot.org site.