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Evaluating Internet Information Sources

The growth of the Internet in recent years has given rise to a vast collection of information sources. Companies, educational institutions, organizations, government bodies, and individuals serve as information providers via the Internet. Unfortunately, not all of the information available is accurate and reliable. Unlike traditional print information sources that generally go through a "filtering" process which may include peer review, editing or evaluation by some outside source, the electronic environment is a case of Caveat lector: Let the reader beware.

To assist the Florida Coastal School of Law Community in using Internet information the Library and Technology Center has compiled the following guidelines to use as criteria for choosing valid, accurate and reliable electronic sources for use in research or other endeavors.


Evaluation Guidelines

  • 1. Authorship - Who wrote or compiled the information contained in the site? What is the basis of the authority with which they speak (what qualification and/or reputation do they have in this subject area?) What is their institutional affiliation? Is there a contact point somewhere on the page such as e-mail address, telephone number or physical address?
  • 2. Publishing Body - Is the name of any organization given somewhere on the site? Are there any distinctive features that indicate the document is part of an official academic or scholarly website (headers, footers, watermark, etc.)? Can you identify the server where the document resides (this is an important point and can help determine if the information originates from a source with some bias, commercial interest or particular point of view they are espousing). See below.

    Note: To identify the server you can check the domain name in the Uniform Resource Locator (URL) in the address box at the top of the page. Common domain names include:
     
  • (a) edu- indicates an educational institution (ex: www.fcsl.edu)
  • (b) gov- indicates a government site (ex: www.loc.gov)
  • (c) com- indicate a commercial/for profit site (ex: www.amazon.com)
  • (d) org- indicates a site sponsored by an organization (ex: www.jaxbar.org)
  • (e) mil- indicates an official military site (ex: www.navy.mil)

     
  • 3. Currency/Stability - Is the site current (Is it maintained and frequently updated?). Do the links from the site to other sites work or are they outdated and unusable? Is the information contained in the site current based on your knowledge of the topic? Does the site seem to be stable (can you return to the site via the same URL over a period of time)?
  • 4. Accuracy - Is the information contained in the site accurate based on your knowledge of the topic and other research you have done? Is the site well written? Does it contain typos, misspellings, bad grammar, etc? Are there links to other authoritative sites on the subject? How does the site compare to other sites you have accessed on the same topic? Are there references to literature/materials on the topic in other formats (print, audio-visual, etc.)? Is the material covered in-depth enough for what you require? Is the information presented in an objective/balanced manner?
  • 5. Design - Is the site easy or difficult to navigate? Is there an overabundance of advertising, flashing graphics, clutter, etc. (academic and scholarly sites will usually have a minimum of these). Does it look like someone took the time to give the site a pleasing, usable layout?