ION | Illinois Online Network

Applying Evaluative Tests: Content

Don’t take the information at face value.
Is the author reporting on research he or she conducted personally? First-hand research is very valuable information if it is done well. Look at how well the statistics are used. If you don’t have enough information to evaluate the results, the facts reported are weaker than if you know the research methods used.

Do other sources say the same thing?
If you find the same information in reliable print sources as you do online, the potential for accuracy is higher.

Some work is timeless, while other information has a limited useful life because of advances in the discipline; finally, some information (like technology news or some market values) is outdated very quickly. You must therefore be careful to note when the information you find on a Web site was created, and then decide whether it is still of value to you. Look to see if the site has been updated recently, as reflected by the date on the page.

Determine if the content covers a specific time period or aspect of your topic, or if it strives to be comprehensive. Highly specialized sites contain more detailed information.

Is the author discussing a controversial topic? A good writer should be able to control his or her biases. Be aware that some organizations are naturally not neutral. Be on the lookout for slanted biased, politically distorted work. Axe grinding makes a lot of heat and sparks, but not much light. Pay attention to the tone. Venting is not arguing. Do reality checks: is the information believable? Does it make sense? Or do the claims lack face validity? That is, do they seem to conflict with what you already know in your experience, or do they seem too exaggerated to be true? Does the author discuss various opinions about an issue, giving each due respect? Or is only one side presented?

Is there evidence of the sources for the information you have found? Are there references within the text? If these are print references, they can be evaluated the usual way. If they are links to other Internet documents, you’re back at the starting point in evaluating the new reference.

Many Web sites contain links to other documents or sites on the Web. Follow a few of these links to see what kind of information the author associates with. Are the links relevant and appropriate?