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Evaluating Web Sites
Know your APC’s: Authority, Purpose, and Currency
Almost any kind of document can be found on the Web. Web sites can be official government documents, opinionated blogs, specialized academic research, advertisements, newspapers, parodies, and political lobbying sites, to name just a few. It is important to realize that not all information on the Web has the same degree of reliability. When evaluating Web sites, it is important to know your APC’s:
- Who is the author?
- What are the author’s credentials?
- Is the author affiliated with a larger institution?
- Is the contact information provided to either mail or email the creator for further information?
Knowing who the author is can establish how much expertise the author has on the topic and what biases the author might have. Information on authority often can be found in the “About” or “Contact” section of a Web site.
- Why was this site created?
- For whom is this site intended?
- Is the author trying to sell a product or service?
- Is the author affiliated with an organization interested in promoting its own ideas?
- Does the site link to other authoritative sites on the same topic?
Sometimes a site will indicate its point of view in the “About” section. Other times, a site will have bias or errors that are harder to spot. Considering the tone of the site, comparing the site to information in other sources, and considering what sort of site it is are some ways to check.
- When was the site created?
- When was the last time the site was updated?
- Are the links to other sites still active?
Tip: Dead links are a sign that the Web site is not updated regularly. This should lead you to question the currency of the other information on the site.
For many topics, old information can be out-of-date and no longer accurate. Information about currency is often found by scrolling to the bottom of the home page. It may contain a date created, date last updated, or a copyright date.
Here are some tips if you found too much information, too little information, or the wrong information in your search.
Too Much Information
1. Try looking at an irrelevant record your search retrieved
Can you figure out why the database gave it to you? Did you use one word that the computer misunderstood? See if you can use a more specific term or maybe a short phrase that excludes the meaning you don't want. Try adding a new term which makes your old term more specific.
Instead of Japan and economy
Try Japan and economy and (auto or automobile or car)
2. Check where in the record your search terms matched.
The best matches for topics are in fields like Subject or Title. Look for an Advanced or Expert Search option in the database to search in specific fields only, if you can.
3. Use limiters when they're available.
Will the database let you ask for publications only in English? Can you ask for only peer reviewed journal articles? Want more recent information? Is there a subject heading that covers your topic? Can you get rid of book and film reviews? Play around with your options and see if they help. Try using the Boolean operator NOT.
(Iran and Iraq) not war
Hussein and not Saddam
Clinton not Lewinsky
Too Little Information
1. Did you spell your search terms correctly?
Research databases are remarkable tools, but they don't come equipped with spell checkers. One misspelled word can sink an entire search. Check a dictionary.
2. Get rid of long phrases.
When you type in a phrase, all the words must appear in exactly that order before the database will give you anything. Some databases automatically put the Boolean operator AND between the words you type, turning your phrase into a long Boolean search string.
Instead of discrimination against ethnic Chinese in Vietnam
Try discrimination and ethnic Chinese and Vietnam
3. Try using alternative terms.
That's what you gathered all the extra vocabulary for. Don't forget truncation or wildcards for variant forms of a word. Read help document in a database for more specific instruction.
4. Try to come up with broader terms for the idea you need.
Every so often, it happens that there's very little written on a specific topic, but a lot on the general area.
Very narrow recombinant DNA and sheep
Narrow cloning and animals
Broader genetic engineering and animal*
Very broad genetic* and animal*
The Wrong Information
1. Check the coverage of the databases you're using.
Do they cover the kinds of material you need? The right discipline(s)? The right kinds of documents? The right dates?
2. Check the Research Guide for your subject
Linked under Find > OneSearch Beta > Databases by Subject on the Library's homepage, for recommended resources.
In class exercise:
Email it to Professor Xiong to the given email address. Use the subject: pols439 library exercise
Use 3 different resources we talked about today in the class, find 3 different types of information, and consult the APA references taught in the class today and cite your 3 resources correctly in APA format:
- one resource must be a peer reviewed journal article
- find other two resources on your choice: newspaper article, legal case, congressional hearing, dataset, reputable web information, book, etc.
- indicate which sources you have used to find the information
A few APA citation examples:
Article in a journal with a DOI (Digital Object Identifier)
Du, J. (2009). Economic reforms and health insurance in China. Social Science & Medicine, 69, 387-395. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2009.05.014
Book, no DOI
Rodriquez, R. (1982). A hunger of memory: The education of Richard Rodriquez.
Government publication, available from the Government Printing Office (GPO)
National Institute of Mental Health. (1990). Clinical training in serious mental illness (DHHS Publication No. ADM 90-1679). Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.