Keeping Safe On Line
What Makes a Web Source a Good Source
What makes a web source a good one? First, it should provide information that is relevant to your project. But even when the information is relevant, it also needs to come from a source that is likely to be accepted as reliable. So second, the source needs to be viewed as a reasonable (or credible) one. Third, the source should be relatively easy to find and to use.
High-quality websites (i.e., ones that have good reputations for posting products of careful, rigorous work and are associated with reputable research/information providers) are seen as providing credible evidence to back your work. But, credibility is more tenuous on the web than it is in print. If someone says, "I found this at X site," what guarantee do you have that the information is correct? For that matter, will the information still be found at that site the next time you try to access it? You need to be prepared for questions about the sources of your evidence, and the best answers you can give will establish the reputability of those sources .
Some credibility builders for a website are:
- It is the official site of an official organization that is well respected.
- Its domain name is appropriate to the information you seek: .edu, .gov, and .org sites are usually more appropriate than .com sites.
- Many other web pages point to this site.
- Printed discussions of sites in this area mention this site favorably.
- It is clear who has written the entry, the person has appropriate credentials, and it seems recent enough.
- The site is updated regularly and its links to other sites work.
- It is annotated in one or more of the subject directories.
There is also the common-sense check: Can you spot any errors in the information provided?
[Interestingly enough, there are plenty of printed volumes that should be questioned more rigorously than they are. It may well be that the practice of questioning information received from the web should be extended to information from other sources (even a book written by your professor).]
A source is also good when it is usable. As far as information is concerned, key usability considerations are ease of location, format and comprehensibility of information, and cost of finding and using the information.
• The easiest source to locate, of course, is one that is handed to you. But realistically, sources are easy to locate when they can be found in a reasonable amount of time using the library’s card catalog or an online database.
• Understandable sources are those that deliver the information you need in ways that you can comprehend (e.g., in language and with explanations that are appropriate) and use (e.g., it has relevant statistics that are in the tabular forms you need as opposed to having those statistics buried in prose discussions).
• Equitably priced sources are those that give you a good return for the amount of time, knowledge, and money you invest in finding and using the information. More and more often, you will be asked to estimate and control your information uses as a part of your professional work. Knowing when you do, or do not, need to pay $100 to have a librarian search for some information in a for-cost database is an important skill.
Student-Identified Strengths and Weaknesses of Web Research
When asked about the strengths and weaknesses of the web as an information source, some students recently observed:
- It’s quick.
- It’s always on.
- There is an immense diversity of subjects at your disposal.
- Users can mark up printouts to their desire. This is very useful in the creation and organization process for many writers, but it is an action that would damage books.
- Information is new and up to date.
- The web includes sites from all over the world.
- The web compliments the cultural ideology that values speed, technology, and innovation.
- Pictures and graphics explain topics better and make research more enjoyable.
- Resources may disappear, thus becoming inaccessible and useless.
- Sites come and go.
- It is harder to evaluate the validity of information.
- Websites may not be updated or their links checked on a regular basis.
- Sometimes users must sift through useless material to get what they want.
- Sources are sometimes hard to document.
- It is easy to get lost.
RESOURCES OUTSIDE PWO: