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UMGC Effective Writing Center Surfin' in Style: How to Find the Best of the Web

When you search for information on the web, most sites will fit into these categories: 

  1. Company Web sites--Good for information on products, services, staff, and the general organizational structure of the company.
  2. Government Web sites--The U.S. government is the world's largest publisher and produces copious amounts of information in a variety of areas.
  3. Organization Web sites--Good for information on the issues and points of view that an organization advocates; can often be useful in pro/con arguments.
  4. Statistical Web sites--Statistical information and data sets from government and academic pages.

But what happens when you venture off into other places on the Wild Wild Web? 

Answer: You take with you a set of evaluation skills and apply them.

Practice by finding a WWW site related to your topic that you think is either very reliable or not at all reliable. Use these criteria to say why you formed this judgment. 

Criterion #1: Authority

  • Is it clear who is sponsoring the creation and maintenance of the page?
  • Is there information available describing the purpose of the sponsoring organization?
  • Is there a way of verifying the legitimacy of the page's sponsor? For instance, is a phone number or address available to contact for more information?
  • Is it clear who developed and wrote the material? Are his/her qualifications for writing on this topic clearly stated? Is there contact information for the author of the material?

Criterion #2: Accuracy

  • Are the sources for factual information given so they can be verified?
  • Is it clear who has the responsibility for the accuracy of the information presented?
  • If statistical data is presented in graphs or charts, are they labeled clearly?
  • Are there errors you can substantiate in the data presented?

Criterion #3: Objectivity

  • Is the page and the information included provided as a public service?
  • Is it free of advertising?
  • If there is advertising on the page, is it clearly separated from the informational content?
  • Are there any other signs of bias?

Criterion #4: Currency

Are there dates on the page to indicate the following:

  • When the page was written?
  • When the page was first placed on line?
  • When the page was last revised or edited?
  • Are there any other indications that the material is updated frequently to ensure currency of the data?
  • If the information is published in print in different editions, is it clear what edition the page is from?
  • Are the links on the page up-to-date?

Criterion #5: Coverage

  • Is there an indication that the page has been completed and is not still under construction?
  • If there is a print equivalent to the Web page, is there clear indication of whether the entire work or only a portion of it is available on the Web?
  • If the material is from a work that is out of copyright (as is often the case with a dictionary or thesaurus), has there been an effort to update the material to make it more current?
  • Is there any other evidence of omissions?
  • Does it cover the subject adequately?

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