A website is different than a published journal article because a website can be published with no review or editing. There are plenty of good sites on the web, offering a huge variety of information. It's often fine to use some of these sites, as long as you're not relying on them completely for all your information and the information you use is University-level research, reliable and valid. Even some unreliable sites are valuable, if used knowingly, appropriately, and within context. The trick is to know when to use what kinds of sites.
Sites that are linked directly from the Library website are usually scholarly and reliable. When you leave our site and look for your own resources on the web, use critical thinking skills (and common sense) to evaluate the information you find.
It's not as hard as you might think to evaluate a website. This tutorial contains a few things you should look at, and some links to other sites that examine how to evaluate websites.
If you understand how to read a url you can learn a lot about the source of your information.
The url for the Trent Library homepage is: http://www.trentu.ca/library/index.htm.
Here's what the url tells us:
|The first part tells the browser that this webpage is written in a language that it can understand: hypertext transfer protocol.||
The next section tells the browser where to find the server that hosts the webpage. This is called the domain.
The webpage must be on a computer (server) that is capable of serving up webpages to browsers, when asked.
The domain for Trent is trentu.ca and the www is the area on that server where the files are kept.
After the slash comes information about which folder holds the file for the webpage you want to access, and the name of the file.
It can be very long, depending on how the server is organized and how many folders and files there are.
In the case of the Trent Library, it's just one folder down in the Trent website. To get to some of the library's specific pages, you need a longer url: http://www.trentu.ca/library/help/databases/AnthroSource.htm.
Why is it helpful to understand this? Because the domain is important. It tells you who put this information on the web.
The type of domain helps identify the institution:
Which types of sites are most likely to provide reliable information? That depends on the information. Know what kind of site you're on, so that you can recognize its purpose.
Beware of the symbol: ~
Here are some things to look for on a website you're using.
Could the website be a hoax? There are plenty of hoaxes on the web: check out:
There are whole websites about hoaxes; just Google "hoax" and see what you get.
In case you didn't figure it out:
Look for bias on a website.
If it is biased, it doesn't always mean you can't use it. But you'd better look for opposing arguments or follow up on some of the facts and sources listed, to ensure that they're legitimate. Your role as a researcher is to consider this bias, point it out in your paper, and include other sources of information to reach your own conclusion.
For an example of a website with a bias, look at http://www.themeatrix.com/. What does this site want to accomplish? The information they provide isn't necessarily wrong, but they have a definite agenda. What aren't they telling us?
Many academic libraries provide webpages and tutorials on evaluating websites. Here are some interesting ones:
Commercial Sites: (Now you know why that matters!)
If you're in doubt about the legitimacy of a website, you probably shouldn't use it. Your common sense is telling you something. If it's easy to find, read, and use, it's tempting to rely on it as a source without considering its scholarship or reliability. However, your professors will check your sources, and if it's not what they want you to find, you'll be graded accordingly.
Always use at least some of the Library's resources.
Feel free to ask at your library for help in evaluating a website or in using a library resource. See our Ask Us! page for contact information.