Initial Thoughts on How to Evaluate Website Content
Why is it important to evaluate website content? That’s a very important question, and one that’s worth thinking about.
It now takes only two days to generate the amount of data that was generated in the entire year in 2003, which means that a lot of content is generated every day.
Additionally, websites are popping up every second, and not all of this new content being generated is created equally. When conducting research, the best places to begin, are reputable sources such as the government, universities and commercial databases. As a tip, government websites often end in .gov and educational institutions in .edu.
For these three sources, the content is usually vetted before it is released to the public. But when the typical person needs information, the first thought that often comes to mind is to type in keywords in Google. And that is not a bad thing since the internet has evolved over the past decade and a half, so more organizations are making quality content available to the masses.
““Buckminster Fuller created the ‘Knowledge Doubling Curve’; he noticed that until 1900 human knowledge doubled approximately every century. By the end of World War II, knowledge was doubling every 25 years. Today things are not as simple as different types of knowledge have different rates of growth. For example, nanotechnology knowledge is doubling every two years and clinical knowledge every 18 months. But on average human knowledge is doubling every 13 months. According to IBM, the build out of the ‘internet of things’ will lead to the doubling of knowledge every 12 hours.”” Source: Is Knowledge Doubling or Halving?
Related: How to Analyze Information
But how can you distinguish between quality information, and the not so good information when websites are cropping up everywhere, and anything can be posted without documentation and verification? There is a straightforward way to evaluate website content, which will allow you to decide whether to use the information from any website.
5 Ways to Evaluate Website Content
- Is the information reliable?
- Are there other websites with similar information?
- Is there a footnote of sources?
- Are there sources cited in the article?
- Are the sources cited from reputable people and organizations?
- Is the information verifiable?
- Is the author identified on the website?
- What are the person’s credentials?
- Is the person providing the information an expert?
- How deeply has he or she studied the topic?
- Has he or she worked in the field related to the topic?
- What is the goal of the author in writing the article? This can help you to determine bias.
- Who sponsors the site?
- Is this the best source for the information?
- Is the information biased?
- If applicable, are both sides of the argument addressed?
- Can you easily distinguish fact from opinion in the article?
- Note the date on the information.
- Is the information current enough to be credible?
- What date was the information first published?
- When was the last time it last updated?
- Do not use any information that predates major changes in the field.
- What subjects are included in the information?
- How broad is the coverage of the topic?
- Is the information general or specialized?
- Is the topic explored in-depth?
- Can you easily identify the main idea?
Final Thoughts on How to Evaluate Website Content
I wrote this post in July 2014, and now I feel the need to offer some additional insights. The five ways to evaluate website content is a great starting point. But now I need to raise some things that are on my mind. There are some very reputable websites with great content that remove the date from their posts because they do not want the content to appear dated. That’s a major barrier to figuring out currency, especially if you want the later information. If the information you are looking for is the kind that changes, and if the article doesn’t have a date, do not use the information, even if you love the site.
As a rule of thumb, never use information from only one source, and develop the habit of mixing things up. Try to get your information from government sources, universities, and well-known periodicals. And whenever possible, try to have an email or phone conversation with experts in the area that you are interested in to gather primary research information from them. With the rise of social media and other online technologies, it is very easy to connect with anyone.
You may not have the time to speak to someone, but if you mix things up, by using content from a variety of sources and media, you are protecting yourself. I have been doing a series of curated blog posts on learning the 10 key skills needed for future jobs. Before starting the series, I read the book, Curate This, which taught me some important things to make the curated posts better. In each of the posts so far, I include articles from across media and from a variety of sources. I also use a content curation software, but not everyone have access to such a software. I make sure to include videos, since educational institutions love to upload video lectures to YouTube.
Another point worth mentioning, is that if you are looking for quality information that you will be basing decisions on, try accessing commercial databases through the portal for your public library. The advantage of using commercial online databases is that librarians and publishers have already vetted the information for you. Even though you should have a library card, if you don’t, instead of starting the search on Google, start your search on Google Scholar.
Take You Search to a New Level: Where to Start
- To find articles from government sources, a good place to start is the Department of Commerce. Figure out the appropriate Ministry/Department for your country.
- Start your search with Google Scholar.
- Go to the home page of your public library and look for links to databases. For instance, I live in Toronto, so I go to the Toronto Public Library website home page. There is a link, Articles and Online Research, that’s the link I click on. The next option I select is A – Z of All Databases, but when I select any database, I have to enter my library card number and password. Another option is Questia, a paid online database, that gives you access to a lot of credible sources.