Online searching seems to be the perfect research tool. You type a few words and you instantly get a million results! But there are several reasons why it is not the best place to start.
1. The best academic material is usually only available on pay-to-view sites. Yo need to access them via the university library.
2. There are usually too many results. You have to work hard to find the most relevant one to your work.
3. It is very hard to judge the reliability. Unlike an academic database, a search engine does not discriminate between the trustworthy and the unreliable.
An internet search may be useful after you have searched through the library resources. But in order to make good use of search engine results, you must assess the credibility of the information.
* Search engine, such as Google is great place to start when you’re first reading up on the assigned writing topic.
* Use online scholarly databases such as EBSCO discovery service which provide access to the latest research in hundreds of areas.
* Newspapers and magazines are also rich sources of information about what is happening now
* Library catalog is always a rich source of information.
To evaluate means to judge the value or condition of (someone or something) in a careful and thoughtful way.
The Internet provides faster and more extensive ways of retrieving and sharing information. High-quality graphics, two-way audio and video transmission, virtual reality and real-time database access have transformed the way people communicate and learn.
This transformation is especially manifest in the vast information archive on the World Wide Web. Because the Web opens windows to easy access and distribution of information, almost anyone can publish anything on the Web. It follows that much of the information on the Web has not been for accuracy or qualtiy.
Evaluating Your Sources
In your search for information, you eventually face the challenge of evaluating the resources you have located and selecting those you judge to be most appropriate for your needs. Examine each information source you locate and assess sources using the following criteria:
Your resources need to be recent enough for your topic. If your paper is on a topic like cancer research, you would want the most recent information, but a topic such as World War II could use information written in a broader time range.
Does the information come from an author or organization that has authority to speak on your topic? Has the information been peer-reviewed? (You can use Ulrichsweb to determine if a journal is peer-reviewed). Do they cite their credentials? Be sure there is sufficient documentation to help you determine whether the publication is reliable including footnotes, bibliographies, credits, or quotations.
Who are the intended readers and what is the publication's purpose? There is a difference between a magazine written for the general public and a journal written for professors and experts in the field.
Does this article relate to your topic? What connection can be made between the information that is presented and your thesis? An easy way to check for relevance is by reviewing the Abstract or Summary of the article before downloading the entire article.
Biased sources can be helpful in creating and developing an argument, but make sure you find sources to help you understand the other side as well. Extremely biased sources will often misrepresent information and that can be ineffective to use in your paper.
Websites create an interesting challenge in evaluating credibility and usefulness because no two websites are created the same way. The TAARP method described above can be used, but there are additional things you want to consider when looking at a website:
The look and feel of the website - Reliable websites usually have a more professional look and feel than personal Web sites.
The URL of your results - The .com, .edu, .gov, .net, and .org all actually mean something and can help you to evaluate the website!
Informational Resources are those which present factual information. These are usually sponsored by educational institutions or governmental agencies. (These resources often include .edu or .gov.)
Advocacy Resources are those sponsored by an organization that is trying to sell ideas or influence public opinion. (These resources may include .org within the URL.)
Business or Marketing Resources are those sponsored by a commercial entity that is trying to sell products. These pages are often very biased, but can provide useful information. (You will usually find .com within the URL of these resources.)
News Resources are those which provide extremely current information on hot topics. Most of the time news sources are not as credible as academic journals, and newspapers range in credibility from paper to paper. (The URL will usually include .com.)
Personal Web Pages/Resources are sites such as social media sites: blogs, Twitter pages, Facebook, etc. These sources can be helpful to determine what people are saying on a topic and what discussions are taking place. Exercise great caution if trying to incorporate these sources directly into an academic paper. Very rarely, if ever, will they hold any weight in the scholarly community.
Are there advertisements on the site? - Advertisements can indicate that the information may be less reliable.
Check the links on the page - Broken or incorrect links can mean that no one is taking care of the site and that other information on it may be out-of-date or unreliable.
Check when the page was last updated - Dates when pages were last updated are valuable clues to its currency and accuracy.
1) Open the site
The first thing students need to do is open the site.
When looking through your Google search results, you may want to teach students to open sites in new tabs, leaving their search results in a tab for easy access later (e.g. right-click on the title and click “Open link in new tab”).
It can also be worthwhile to explain the anatomy of a Google Search result and the benefits of looking past the first few results. I go over this in more detail in my guide to teaching students how to research.
2) Skim read
Next, skim read the site and determine whether you can read and understand the text. If it’s too complicated or difficult to understand, find another website.
Decide whether this is the sort of site that might provide you with the information you’re looking for. If the site is difficult to navigate, cluttered with ads, or has other red flags like poor spelling or inappropriate content you might want to leave straight away.
Skimming and scanning is the default way most people now consume new content so this now holds an important role in literacy education. A regularly quoted study from Nielsen Norman tells us that 79% of users always scan a new page they come across. Only 16% read word for word.
Scanning and skim reading can be worth practicing in the classroom. E.g. give students one minute to look at a text and then share what they think it’s all about. This is something that could be tried with emerging readers right up to higher level students.
3) Look for the answer to your question
If you think the site might prove useful, you now need to find out if the information on the site actually answers your question. You could use a search box, navigation menu, or pull up your own search box by pressing Control/Command F. Type in the keywords you’re looking for.
Stop skimming, and read more closely to see if this information is useful to you.
4) Consider the credibility of the author or website
If the information is there, you need to consider the credibility of the author or website. Can you rely on the information?
Here are some things you can look for on the website:
Domain — sometimes domains that include .gov or .edu come from more trustworthy education or government sources.
Author information — look at at the author bio or About page. How qualified is this person?
Design — we can’t judge a book (or website!) by its cover but sites that are cluttered, difficult to navigate, or look amateurish may be worth avoiding.
Sources — trustworthy articles usually link to other sources or cite where their facts come from.
5) Consider the purpose of the site
The next step is to think about the purpose of the site and whether it meets your needs.
Is the author trying to make you think a certain way? Are they biased or one-sided?
Are they trying to sell you something? Sometimes ads might not be so obvious, for example, blog posts can be written to promote a product.
Is the author’s tone calm and balanced? Articles fueled by anger or extreme opinions are not going to be the best source of information.
Do the headlines match the article? Or are they simply designed to hook readers?
Is the author trying to educate the audience and present a balanced and factual picture? This is what you usually want.
6) Look for the date
Finally, it’s important to consider whether the information is current enough for your topic. You can look for when the article was written or it might tell you when it was last updated. Sometimes URLs include dates as well.
Does it matter how old an article is? Well, that might depend on your topic. For example, if you’re looking for the latest research on nutrition or a medical condition, the date might be very important. If you’re looking for some facts about World War One, it might not matter if the information hasn’t been updated in a few years.
If the site is no good, bounce back…
As the flowchart demonstrates, if you’re ever in doubt, just head back to your search results and try again. You might want to alter your search terms based on the results you’re provided with. Sometimes you need to change your keywords or be more specific.
When you overcome all these hurdles and find some information that looks useful and reliable, it can be a good idea to crosscheck the information. So, have a look at a few other websites to see if they corroborate the information you’ve found.
It’s important to remember that you can’t believe everything you read and it’s essential to consider multiple perspectives.
Studies have shown that students find it difficult to discriminate between fake news and factual information. This is very important to address but not the only aspect of website evaluation.
Like so many skills, website evaluation is something that people can become fluent at with practice. An important part of the process is thinking critically — not believing everything you read, not settling for any source of information, and always questioning.
Students need to know that anyone can be an author and publish online nowadays (hopefully they’re already publishing online themselves through a blog or similar!).
Like all aspects of teaching students how to research, classroom integration is key. You don’t need to spend large chunks of time on one-off lessons. Model your own searches explicitly and talk out loud as you evaluate websites. As you model, you could evaluate any old website or sometimes show a ‘fake site’ (check out Eric Curt’s examples of fake sites).
When students can evaluate websites quickly, intuitively, and effectively, they’ll be on a path to thriving in and out of the classroom.