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Researching and Critiquing Internet Resources

The goals of this assignment are to help you:
  • become knowledgeable about doing research on the Internet
  • develop your critical thinking skills and back up your conclusions with evidence.
  • create clear concise text (using the necessary editing and layout skills).
  • produce a web page document, or a written report, and/or oral presentation

You will be graded on:

  • appropriateness of the sites you pick to critique
  • quality of analysis with supporting evidence
  • quality of written web or text document - ease of use, clear, concise, correct spelling and grammar. (If you do the web page option, I am not expecting fancy JAVA scripted or graphics laden web pages. It should be user-friendly, and thorough in content, and not obscured by too many bells and whistles.)

 It is important to know the difference between reliable and unreliable information transmitted by all means of information sharing. Because anyone, in theory, can publish on the Web, it is imperative for us to develop a critical eye to evaluate the credibility of information transmitted via the Internet. To help you become familiar with Internet information in your major, you will explore some Internet sites that relate to your major and write a report (to be posted as a Web Page or a text document). 

 You can select one extensive Internet site and give an overview of various components, then concentrate on one or more major links in detail. If your site is not very extensive you can critique the whole site. If the site you choose has a significant amount of information, you can pick representative samplings of information to deal with in detail and give a general overview of what is covered. 

 You will analyze the information and graphics on the Web sites, write a report on your findings and publish it on the Web (The Web publishing may be optional. A written report may be substituted for the web page. Or the presentation may be an oral l report to the class, with the web page transmitted on a screen, using a Web browser. 

 Attention: If you submit your report as a Web page, provide links to the original Internet material you are analyzing. If you want to use their logo or copy any material onto your web page (other than a link) you must first get permission from the originator of that material. If you want to quote a short portion of the original site's text, you must be sure you give credit to the original source. Also include in your text version the http addresses for the links you cover in your report. 

Questions and points to address when writing your report: When you analyze the sites and form opinions, backup your opinions with supporting evidence to support your points. Your report should not be in Q & A format. You have flexibility in format and style, as long as your report is clear, concise, and well organized. 

1. Give the URL (http:// address) of the site, and a brief overview of its content. 

2. What are the major categories of information covered on the site/sites? 

3. Who are the audiences for these sites? What clues define the audiences? Provide evidence such as tone, voice, and language (accessible to the general public or technical) assumed knowledge. 

4. What are the hypertext links on that "page"? How do the various links relate to the main theme? Are the links consistent with the main theme, or does the site have personal links? Is it a hodgepodge of various personal interests of an individual? 

5. What kinds of graphics are on the sites? Describe them in detail. How do they relate to the topics? Are the graphics designed to grab your attention? Do they make the site easier to use, or help explain concepts? Do the graphics support text information or do they stand alone? Do they overuse graphics to the point of distraction? Who are the various audiences for these graphics? What are your clues? 

6. What clues do you have about the credibility of the sites and information? You may not be familiar with the institutions, organizations, or individuals who sponsor or who contributed information to the sites (and this is also true with traditional text sources), but can you also find text material by these authors or institutions in the library? From what institutions or organizations do the sites originate? Any group can give itself an official sounding name or logo. What beyond surface credibility gives you clues about the reliability of the site and its information? Is the sponsoring organization involved in research and/or does it provide supporting documentation to back up its points? Does the site have built in bias? For example is the Web page an advertisement for a product or service? Does it have a particular political or social agenda? Having an agenda or selling a product on the Web is not necessarily "bad," but is the sponsor "sneaky" about its alliances or "up front"? 

7. Make some general observations about what you learned about the subject you chose to investigate from exploring these sites. What did you learn about your discipline through exploring the Internet sources? What general observations can you make about the usefulness and value of the information you found on the Internet (while aware of the fact that you have not covered all possible sites - only a sampling) in your chosen field of study? What did you learn about the importance of critiquing sources, We b and non Web based, with a critical eye? 

8. On what kind of Web site does the information appear? 

Some types of Web sites:

  • Personal Home Pages - Web sites which are maintained by individuals. They are often informal.  Individuals can post their resumes, link to favorite sites, and showcase their interests and ideas.  Some personal Web sites also serve as professional sites. For example, many professors publish their syllabi and other course material on their own Web pages.
  • Special interest sites - maintained by non-profit organizations or activists dealing with special issues, such as environmental concerns, legalization of marijuana, etc.  They can be relatively mainstream or radical in interests and vary widely in credibility of information.
  • Information sites - which include research, reference sources, and fact sheets. Many institutions provide such services to the public. The credibility of the institution providing the facts gives clues as to the reliability of the in formation. Is the material documented?
  • News and journalistic sites - which include national, international news, online newspapers, magazines. Anyone can publish his or her own "news," on the Web. As in print - just because it is published does not necessarily mean it is true. If a periodical article has an ISSN (International Standard Serial Number) it will probably have more authority. Web serials that do not have ISSN numbers are probably created by entrepreneurs and less authority than other publications
  • Commercial sites - Although many legitimate businesses have Web sites; some are not legitimate. Companies are in the business of making money and acquiring and keeping customers.  They are naturally biased in favor of their own products, so watch out for inflated claims for performance and quality.  Companies will not showcase their competitors' products. If you are, for example, comparing products, get impartial reviews, not company information. Many entrepreneurs use "rented" Web space e to create their own Web sites to sell their services or products - buyer beware ! Can you track the reputation of the company?

No category of Web site is "better" than another. They serve different purposes. There are reliable and unreliable Web sites in all categories of Web sites. A personal Web site, which expresses the interests and biases of its author, is a legitimate use of a Web site, as long as the Web site owner is upfront about his or her identity.  Many such sites have useful information. But, without documentation, can you trust the source for scholarly research? Be wary of sites which publish information and express views without letting you know who the original source is. Web sites can masquerade as one type but may really have a hidden agenda. Any group can give itself an official sounding name or logo. Attune yourself to clues to help you recognize the true nature and intent of sites, and the reliability of the information. Below are some extensions on Web addresses, which give clues as to where the Web server/site resides: 

.edu - for education sites
.gov - for government sites
.org - for organization sites
.com - for commercial sites
.net - for network infrastructures
or the abbreviation of a country, such as .jp for Japan

The Internet addresses (Domain Names), which end in such extensions, correlate to the server which is the "home base" for that Internet address. It gets confusing when dealing with personal Web pages. Independent providers, such as AOL, are not responsible for the content of individual's Web pages, anymore than a university is responsible for the Web pages of students ( Though, in extreme cases, you can be cut off if your content does not fit certain standards). If a person named "Doe" had a Web page on America Online, the address might be  Even though the site is commercial (AOL), Mr./Ms. Doe bought Web space for a personal Web page.  Some universities provide Web space to faculty and students.  So personal Web pages can reside on a server with an ".edu" extension. 

See more Guidelines for Critiquing Web Sites:
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