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01
Jun

Web Resources: Trash or Treasures?

Posted by on in Internet Research
  • Hits: 1085

Imagine a flea market where you can purchase anything from used books, fresh produce, to old clothes. What’s more, there is no order to this vast selection of goods and their quality also varies depending on many factors.  Likewise, the ‘internet’ too presents a similar scenario. According to a source, the Web contains an estimated 2.5 billion documents and every day, more than 7.5 million new pages go onto the Web! Yes, it’s much bigger than a flea market! Yet, like in a flea market, the information you find in the Web is not properly organized nor of the same quality. Which means there’s lot of “Trash” on the internet; be it outdated pages, false information, or error links.

On the internet, anyone has the freedom to do whatever they want. No one knows who you are or what you claim to be and thus, any person has the liberty to create and publish what they want. Not only that, unlike printed material such as books and academic journals, the information that is posted on the Web is not carefully peer reviewed or evaluated by editors and publishers. There is unrestricted exchange of information on the internet and there are no rules or standards as to what a writer can publish on the Web. Neither approval is required to post anything on the internet nor is there anyone particularly “in charge” of examining the material that goes into the web.

All this will make selecting reliable information on the internet a daunting task but of course, a crucial task for a serious researcher.

So how can we find the quality information that suits our various information needs on the internet? The answer is, ‘through careful evaluation of web resources you gather.' In other words, whether your web resources are trash or treasures will depend on your skill in evaluating their quality.

 

Evaluate Thoroughly

 

On searching the net, I discovered several links, mostly academic, that discuss aspects in evaluating the credibility of web resources. It seems that these sources mostly discuss the same set of principles although they are not considered as ‘fixed criteria’. They are meant as basic principles to assist you/the researcher in thinking critically of the internet resources.

So what are these principles? The first is “authority." It refers to the author or the producer of a document. One of the first things in evaluating your web resources is to find out who has written or created it. Here you may need to check whether the author/producer of the document is a master of his subject and whether necessary credentials exist to support it. Checking the URL of the website can also be useful in finding the domain the information belongs to; whether the information you see is appropriate to the URL, the author’s affiliation to a reputable institution or organization.

Some examples of domains include;

 

 

  • .biz for business organizations
  • .com for commercial products or commercially-sponsored sites
  • .edu for educational or research material
  • .gov for government resources
  • .info for unrestricted use
  • .int for international organizations
  • .mil for US Department of Defense
  • .name for personal use
  • .net for networks
  • .org for nonprofit organizations

 

Another area is “accuracy," which means finding out whether the information you have collected is reliable or ‘true’. One way to do this is to cross check what you read with another source to see if its error free. Also use your common sense to assess if the information is valid and well researched, and whether it’s “objective”; free from any ideological bias such as political or religious bias.

 

Examining the “currency” of information you have gathered will determine how recent your information is. In other words, when the information published or the page was updated. Checking the timeliness of your information will enable you to understand whether your sources reflect the contemporary views of the subject of concern.

 

Finally, by checking the “coverage," you will be able to understand the extent to which the information covers your need. For instance, even if a source discusses your topic, if it takes a different direction, it may not be of much use for your requirement. Think in lines of whether the site discusses the same information you found on other sites or does it add a valuable new perspective to the same topic. Likewise, check whether the information is too simple, technical or too complicated for your purpose.

 

The more you want to refine the quality of your resources, the more you can add to the list of evaluation criteria; be it style and functionality, audience to which it was intended, purpose, logical consistency, flow, authors argument, grammar, typographical errors,etc. The list will go on…

 

The bottom line is your requirement should determine the quality of your resources. For instance, if you are looking up at some information just for your own edification, you can check on a few links and cross-check the information to find out whether it’s reliable. But if its serious research you are considering, say its academic, you may have to be a bit more skeptical in evaluating the material.

 

Evaluate Critically

 

Finding the right information or the “treasures” on the internet is a skill that one should master. It comes through experience. The more you go through internet resources, the more you will become familiar with the type of resources available on the internet and how best to evaluate them. As one source stated, “You must be your own editor, publisher, and librarian when you do Web research.” because there’s no one “in charge”.

 

 

Ultimately what makes the evaluation process complete is your critical thinking and your common sense.

 

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