How can you decide if a particular web site is a reliable source? Use your critical thinking skills. Look, read, use what you already know and use your common sense.

Here are some techniques that can help:

I. Look at the URL (web address).     

The domain name (lib.jjay.cuny.edu in the above example) offers some clues as to the origins of the site. It is usually an abbreviated form of the name of the site sponsor. Is it a name you know?

The various suffixes tell you the top-level domain of the site, or what type of site it is. For example:

.com = a commercial enterprise, a business
.edu = an educational institution
.gov = a government agency
.org = a non-profit organization.

This can help you determine the purpose of the site. Is it primarily to persuade, to inform, to advertise? Does it suit your purpose?

Personal pages: A personal page requires extra scrutiny. It really could be anyone: a 6th grader, an expert, a kook. A URL containing a personal name and a tilde (~) or the word “personal” indicates a personal page.
For example:

A particular page or article on a larger site: Often a search will bring you to a page other than the home page for a web site.
The URL will look like this:

To get to the home page of that site, where you may be better able to determine who is responsible for the site, delete everything after the domain name (delete: /info/) and go there.

II. Links to the site. Do other reliable sites link to the site? You can find out by going to Google (http://www.google.com) or Altavista (http://www.altavista.com). Here is what to do in Google:

Enter the web address in the search box:

Click on search and on the results screen click on link to to find the links:

III. Who is responsible? Can you find the name of an individual or organization responsible for the content of the site other than a webmaster? Scan the page looking for a name, for credentials, for a way to contact the author other than just an email address. Sometimes this will be found under links called “FAQ” (frequently asked questions), “contact us, or “about us.”

          

What can you find out about the author? Use a search engine to check the name or use one of the Library’s databases to see if the author has published in journals or magazines. Use reference books such as the Encyclopedia of Associations (Ref. AS 22 .E5) or Who’s Who in America (Ref. E 176 .W642).

IV. Is the web site being kept up to date? Look for a date when the site was last updated, or look for signs that information is being added regularly.

          

V. Who is the intended audience? Look for a statement of purpose or some other clue to see who the web site is aimed at. Is it meant for children, professionals, students, the general public, etc.? Choose accordingly.



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