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Content Evaluation Electronic Clues ... More Information

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Critical Thinking

Content Evaluation


Evaluation of materials should be based on objective criteria and conducted within a particular context. To ask whether a research resource is "good" is to ask a meaningless question -- unless we can determine how "good" is defined. Generally, evaluation of a research source or resource should be based on:

The presence of an item an internet searcher, on a handout, as a footnote in a journal article, or as a link on an institutional site, does not constitute a recommendation nor a guarantee of accuracy and currency of content. Information on the internet, or in journals, is controlled by those who post, or publish, it. It may be wonderful and it may not.

When you evaluate a source or resource, you need to consider its purpose before deciding its worth: is it there to educate, inform, persuade, entertain, advertise or market? Does it have an agenda, either clearly expressed or hidden? Are you looking at a peer-reviewed or scholarly source, or a student paper produced for an undergraduate course? Has the author undertaken to present a balanced paper or has s/he ignored items which did not support her/his theory?

In broad terms, evaluation is determining the value of the information for your purpose. Citation is a necessity when using the information for any research or academic purpose. Generally, citation elements are extracted from evaluation elements. So ... does the material include all needed citation elements (author, title, date, place of publication/publisher)? If it does not, then maybe you should consider the value of what you are reading very carefully.

Logical Fallacies

Evaluating a research resource, electronic or otherwise, is more than simply evaluating the nature and worth of the publication, and the reputation of the publisher and the researcher. At some point, you have to decide whether the data presented were gathered appropriately and whether the conclusions drawn are logical, appropriate and actually a result of the data collected. Even the very best researchers may make mistakes, overlook the obvious, and ignore evidence. The result may be any number of logical fallacies which, in turn, may invalidate both the data and the conclusions.

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Electronic Clues and Cues

Gaining Basic Site Insight

If you are doing research, you will be looking for sites that contain information and data. Cute applets, pretty colours, and jokes may be fun, but they may be a waste of time and bandwidth when you are trying to undertake research. The purpose of the site may influence how it is viewed and rated.

The quality and accuracy of the information may be of primary importance to researchers. The determination of these points is largely a matter of experience but there are clues for which researchers can look.

Check the site address. The parts of the URL (domains, country codes, subdomains and standard codes and symbols) tell you something about the originator of the content.

Long-standing (generic) top-level domains are:

government (in the US)
educational institution (in the US)
military (in the US)

Other (generic) top-level domains are appearing as well. They include:

general information
business cooperatives
aviation industry

Major subdomains help you narrow down the origin of the site. They include:

community college
k through 12
state government
government of Canada

Country codes may appear, sometimes in conjunction with major domains and subdomains, and sometimes not. If you are doing research that is nationally dependent (for example, law-related) or your linguistics skills are limited, it helps to pay particular attention to the origin of the site you are using. While not every web site registered in a particular country will contain information specific to that country, there may be a greater likelihood that it does. The country codes are listed in ISO 3166, or in Root-Zone Database from IANA. A few examples of country codes are given here:

.uk / .gb
United Kingdom / Great Britain
Russian Federation

Other standard codes and symbols may also appear, such as:

computer science department
default http port
a space

After you've checked the address, check out the site for:

Running a Web Site

Running a good web site takes an investment of time and money. While time and money do not guarantee quality, the investment made by an organization in its site will give you some indication of the esteem in which the site is held within the organization itself.

Look for statements of responsibility: an author, creator, webmaster, maintainer, with an address and a clickable link to allow comment and questions about the site from users.

Also consider such things as:

Cost/Time Effectiveness

Using a web site requires an investment of time and often, money by the user. That being the case, part of any evaluation should be a consideration of how hard or easy the site is to utilize effectively. Consider such things as:

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Created: 1997/04/11 Last updated: 2017/10/20
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