July/Aug 2011
6 Factors Toward Reliable Web Research

The Web has no central quality control mechanism. Great for the dynamic spirit we love about the Web (contributors add, usually within legal limits, what they want to add), potentially frustrating when judging the reliability of information you find. How do you know what is authoritative and what is not—if the information cited is authentic, if it contains bias, or if the site is meant to be ironic, like a satire or a spoof? When judging Web content for reliability, keep six factors in mind to help you answer these questions:

Authority - Domain designations (.com, .gov, .edu) can be good indications of whether the info provided is from an appropriate entity or institution.

Authorship - Similar to authority, but also look for authorship credentials where you are relying on specific data or information.

Objectivity - Consider what the purpose of a site is and who the intended audience is. Does it make you question the content?

Clarity - Is the information presented easy to find or navigate to on the site?

Currency - This depends on the nature of the content. Where content is time-sensitive you want to rely on sites that are updated regularly. Many sites provide some kind of update notice on their pages.

Stability - Will the sites you are relying on be available in the near or distant future? Will the content you are pointing to be changed? This is an uncertainty, even with sites considered reliable and authoritative.

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