Step 6 - Find, Review, and Evaluate Web Resources
You now have some useful books and articles on your topic, so the next step is to find Web resources. It is important to point out that pages on the Internet do not go through the same editorial and publishing process as books and journal articles. The Internet is a self-publishing entity, which means that anyone can publish anything on the Web anytime. We now have access to a rich resource of online content such as Web pages, blogs, wikis, video sharing sites, social networking sites, etc. While this variety of both content and format is exciting, remember the self-publishing aspect of the Web. This means that you must be even more careful in reviewing and evaluating the resources that you are choosing for your research.
Subscription Databases vs. Online Resources
As you learned in the last step, the Library subscribes to over 200 databases which provide access to journal articles, many of which are available in full-text. These databases are usually very expensive and paid for by the Library. Internet resources, on the other hand, are for the most part freely available on the Web.
A search directory provides subject access to the Web, the same way online catalogs and databases provide subject access to books and articles. Use a search directory when you want an organized approach to sites arranged by main topic and subtopic. In addition to commercial subject directories such as Yahoo, there are many academic and professional directories that will save you time in the research process. These directories are created by experts in the field, and link to Web pages that have already been evaluated and selected for that directory. In many cases there are annotations, evaluations and detailed descriptions. Two good examples of academic and professional search directories are:
Infomine - an annotated and evaluated list of scholarly Internet resources collected by subject specialist librarians.
The Internet Public Library - a subject directory of Internet sites developed and maintained by a consortium of colleges and universities with programs in information science.
A web search engine provides a keyword approach to finding information. You can search by keywords just like in the library catalog or library subscription databases. The most popular search engine is Google, of course! But there are others with different types of search interfaces that you may find interesting.
Quintura - This search engine provides a cloud tag interface.
Anything can be published on the Internet, so it is extremely important to critically evaluate Web sites.
Who is responsible for creating the web page? An individual or an organization? If it is an individual, you can search for information about the author's credentials or affiliations in Google Scholar, in our online catalog, or in online databases.
Is the content produced by an organization such as the American Medical Association? If so, check the site's "About" page to learn about the background and expertise of the producer. Look at the "About" page of the Assignment Research Calculator and you will find out about the authors and their credentials.
Does this organization represent a point of view or bias, or attempt to influence public opinion? Think about how the website of The Democratic Party, might differ from the one for The Republican Party.
Who is this web site created for? Is the content geared to a certain age group? If so, would a site focused on middle school children be appropriate for a college paper?
What is the content of the web site: images, articles, a blog? The type of domain (.edu, .gov, .org) may provide some clues about the information. Is the content original or reproduced from another source? If it is reproduced, is there a permission statement indicating this? It is very important to verify that this information is correct and hasn't been altered.
How recent is the web site? The site should be up-to-date and updates listed after the original date. Generally this information is located at the bottom of the web page.
Is the web site relevant to your research topic? Does the level of information meet your research needs?
Click here for a schematic from UC Berkeley that teaches techniques to evaluate web pages.
An excellent resource that covers not only Web pages, but blogs, social booksmarks, social networking sites and more is Evaluating Web Content, written by two librarians at SUNY-Albany.