The evolution of the Internet has helped numerous people find information about many different subjects. If you are writing a paper, investigating a topic, or just looking for information, chances are you can find it online. The biggest question many people face with information is how to properly evaluate the information they have found. You need to check a web site for applicability, authenticity, bias, usability, and authorship. Here are a few other tips that can help you when you are evaluating information:
Resources — It is always important to check where the information you are getting is coming from. For example, if you are doing a research paper about medical malpractice, you will want to look at government web sites that contain this information. If you do a search for this information elsewhere, you may find the information you are receiving is coming from a biased opinion, and you aren’t getting “both sides” of information available. It is just important to remember that anyone can publish on the Internet, so be sure you are checking your sources.
Authority — This is particularly important when it comes to the Internet. “Authority indicates whether or not an individual, an organization, or an agency is recognized as an expert in a field and if that body is knowledgeable, qualified, and reliable.” Basically this means that you wouldn’t go to a veterinarian if you had a toothache! The proper authority indicates whether or not you are gaining the right information. Government agencies and academic organizations are often trusted with authority.
Qualifications and affiliation — How do you know if the author or the provider of information is qualified in this field of information? It should be clearly noted on the author’s biography or the information provider’s “about us” section. You should also find the author’s name or the source’s name clearly identified on the article. Check for affiliates as well. Many companies outsource information from an affiliate who is qualified.
Check the URL — This is an easy way to evaluate the information you are receiving. Here are the definitions to the following URLs:
.edu — This indicates the information you are reading is from a higher education college or university.
.org — This identifies a non-profit organization.
.gov — This indicates that the information is coming from a government agency or organization.
.int — This information will be from an intergovernmental organization such as “NATO”.
.com — Of course this is the most widely used of all the URLs. A .com address indicates the information is coming from a commercial organization.
.mil — This information will be coming from a military organization.
.net — Network providers such as Verizon Wireless use .net addresses.
.info — This indicates the web site is a general information site.
That will give you a better understanding as to what type of information you can expect to see on a particular web site. You do need to be aware that many people have found ways around using the specified URLs and they can use certain sites for personal gain. Many universities have found that students use domains attached to the school to create opinion pages. If you have any doubt about the information you are reading, you should look for a contact person (either by phone or e-mail) and quality control (typically the information will have reviews by other editors.)
Another thing you should look for when you are evaluating information is the accuracy of the content. You should check for grammatical errors and evidence of bias opinions in the article. Overall, be sure to check your sources, and don’t just trust once source. It is always a smart idea to gain information from more than one source!