Why do you need to think critically about Web Information?
"We've inherited this notion that if it pops up on a screen and looks good, we tend to think of it as fairly credible." Paul Gilster, Digital Literacy (1997)
Because there is so much information on the web that is of mediocre to poor quality, all of us need to look carefully at the sites we use for academic research. This tutorial has been designed to introduce some techniques for judging the value of web information for your academic work.
A good site always identifies who is responsible for the content of the site. That could be either an individual or an institution. A link on the page should take you to information about the author and/or sponsoring body. Multiple contact points, like email, phone and fax, are most helpful.
The author should make his/her point of view clear. The purpose for the page should be clearly stated. Good sites should also define funding or sponsoring sources and clearly explain their relationship.
A great site will provide an indication of the date the site was created and the dates it was revised. Certain disciplines, especially the sciences, depend heavily on very current information. For other disciplines, like history of literature, the dates may be less important. You need to make that determination.
For statistical information, it is important to know the date the information was compiled. That date could be very different than the date the page was posted or revised.
Because web material can be published almost immediately, the regular editorial checks associated with paper publishing are often missing. Therefore, you need to do some checking on your own. Look for lists of the sources the author used, and even better, look for links to those sources. Look also for labels on the graphs, charts, or tables telling you when and where the data was gathered. Look for grammatical and typographical errors which are often an indication of poor or non-existent editing.