Now that we have discussed the different methods for locating a web site, we need to talk about how to decide whether or not to use the information you found. If you have tried a search in one of the search engines you already know that a search might produce 40,000 or even 400,000 results. How do you manage these results? Here are some suggestions:
- Do not feel obligated to view all 400,000 results. Search engines use statistical methods to rank the results. Although you cannot depend on this ranking system one hundred percent, in theory the items most relevant to your search are listed first.
- Read the titles listed on the search engine's result page. Does it sound like what you are looking for? Some pages are not worth looking at.
- Use these criteria to decided if the web page or site is authoritative:
- Authority: The author should be identified. It is even better if a title or some other information about the author is also provided. You may want to look for information about the author in other locations. The author may be an individual or it may be an institution.
- Institutional Support: The sponsoring institution or organization may or may not effect the quality of the information. It may provide the most authentic information available, or it can bias the information. In the case of many web pages on academic servers, the page is a professor's or student's personal page. Then the author's rather than the institution's credentials are more important.
- URL: Study the web page's address. If you can recognize the sponsoring institution by its URL, you are probably on good ground. Some people put up sites that are meant to confuse the user. If the URL is long and complex, be suspicious. Look at the domain endings (.gov, .edu, .net, .com, .org). These can tell you something about the purpose of the information.
- Currency: A date should be provided revealing when the information was posted on the web. This is especially important for time-sensitive information. If the page is old, the information may be out of date. Not everyone keeps their pages up-to-date.
- Bias: You will need to look for clues that determine the purpose of the information. Read the content and refer back to the URL. The domain ending offers clues (government, commercial, etc.)
- Use common sense. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. If it looks suspicious, be skeptical.