Worksheet #3: Websites -- Video transcript

Websites are like people. When you are searching for something on Google, it helps to think of the results as candidates, like on one of those online dating sites. Sure it can be tempting to pick a site based on how it looks…but that would be like trusting that the people on dating sites use their real picture.

You need to delve deeper to find out what a website is really made of, but how deep should you go?

That depends on the type of relationship you are looking for with the site. Are you looking for a site with some quick facts that you and your friends are debating? Or a site where the quality of information is very important, like personal health information or sources for a research paper?

Are you going to have to take the site home to meet your instructor? Is it good enough quality? Will they approve? Or will they fail you because your website is superficial and a showoff with no real substance? Always consider what you are going to use the website for when choosing a website.

Now when you search for a topic, you will get a lot of options. This can seem overwhelming, and your first instinct might be to pick the first option that appears, but WAIT! Always look at the URL website address to get some clues about the site. In addition to looking at the name, look at the top-level domain (the text after the period):

Now keep in mind that there are hundreds of other top-level domains that anyone can purchase, but only .edu and .gov are exclusive.

So when we return to our results page and find a name that seems reputable, we can click on it to enter that site. Again don’t get caught up in the way it looks, try to find the site’s author. And to do so, we can normally look at the top or the bottom of the page.

Similar to initial looks, don’t assume a site’s validity just because it has an author. What do you actually know about this author? Are they a professor? And opinionated individual? Or a primate who has learned how to produce rational thought and operate a computer?

You just don’t know. So what to do? See what qualifications the author has. But since titles by themselves are not very informative, check to see who the site sponsor is. The sponsor of the site is the company or organization responsible for the content of the site. Sponsors are usually located at the bottom of the page near the copyright date. Or sponsor information can usually be found in the “about” section.

For best results look at the author and sponsor together. For example, if the author is a professor; is the information on an educational site? If so, what university is it? If it’s an organization they probably won’t name an author. So you can click the “about” link to see what they are promoting or what they believe.

Now the “about” section may show you the purpose of the site, but you also want to make sure that it is not biased. In other words are they telling you the whole story?

Put yourself in their shoes. Do they have a reason for only giving you some of the information? [a biased website is shown where the topic is Martin Luther King, Jr., and the site sponsor is a white-pride group.]

It is hard to trust organizations and commercial websites when you only have their word to go on. The only full-proof way to check bias is to check other sites to see what pieces of information may be missing. You should cross examine them. Always ask for the evidence: [girl is shown interrogating her website, asking the following questions]

If your website tells you where the information comes from, the sources usually can be found at the end of the article or report, at the bottom of the page, or underneath the graph.

[Girl walks away from her website, saying “No further questions.”]

The last thing we want to check is the date of the website, usually at the beginning or at the end of an article. A ‘last modified’ or ‘published on’ date is best. A copyright date is okay but not as good because that’s for the whole website.

When looking at dates, you want to ask yourself if age matters; sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t.

So what have we learned: don’t just pick the first website that says hey how’s it going?

Get to know them a little bit more before committing, especially if the information is important, like for your health or for your research paper.

  • Look at the author, are they qualified?
  • Who is the company or organization behind the information? Are the respected? Well known? What’s their purpose? Are they biased? What evidence do they give that they’re reliable?
  • And lastly check their date, are they way behind the times? Or up-to-date on the latest and greatest?
  • But what if there isn’t a website that meets all our criteria? Use your best judgment. For example Wikipedia usually has a great last-modified date and sometimes gives evidence but never cites an author or organization that is behind the content because many authors contribute to in anonymously. It’s actually better to follow the links they list as evidence and follow those websites where you know better where the information came from.

    There a millions of websites out there. Judge them based on what kind of information you need before agreeing to go out. And remember you can always ask the librarian if you need advice.