John R. Henderson, a librarian at Ithaca College, offers some useful advice on how to recognize reliable websites versus junk in his tutorial, “A Guide to Critical Thinking About What You See on the Web.”
Henderson breaks up his tutorial into six different parts, or suggestions that include:
All six suggestions offer practical advice in evaluating the value, accuracy, and objectiveness of websites that will ultimately help you decide which are acceptable to use on a day-to-day basis.
One criteria that must be met when attempting to decide if a website is useful or not is finding out if it is authoritative. Henderson marks authority as,
“Who are the authors, or who is responsible? What gives them their authority or expertise?”
In other terms, is there a part on the website that offers a list of the author’s credentials? Is there a way to contact the author? What academic training has the author had that justifies him and her writing on the subject?
These are all important questions to ask yourself when evaluating the authoritativeness of a website.
Here are six examples of websites that either meet or fail to meet the authoritative criteria.
While the website is outdated and primitive, having not been updated since 1999, it still offers a great deal of information on the 1960’s that seems valid. There are numerous links on the page, most of which link to an .edu, .org, or a well-known network in ESPN, verifying the credential of the site.
The page is also separated into various sections including sports, music, fashion, and historical events, all of which have direct references to books that define what was just talked about.
At the bottom of the page to solidify its authority, there is a contact section with a link to the site designer and authors’ email addresses. There is also a research guide link to the Lone Star College of Kingwood Library database.
While there is no direct contact list for specific authors, there is a “contact us!” link where users can email the website and offer feedback or any troubleshooting that they may have had with the page.
It is understandable why there is no contact page for specific authors, as the history.com, also affiliated with the History Channel on television, is a major network that has multiple authors writing for their page.
Besides the contact page, there are a number of other ways to tell the page is authoritative, such as how its updated regularly, the design of the page is professional, all of the links work, and there are multiple videos that create a wonderful multimedia package for viewers. It’s easy to tell the site’s motive is to inform rather than to mislead.
3) The Sixties
This website, while it looks slightly unprofessional at first glance, is actually probably the most authoritative out of the six websites. The page is an .edu, affiliated with University of Miami, and offers a contact list for its three authors of the page, Dr. Donald Spivey (History), Dr. Joseph Alkana (English), and Dr. David L. Wilson (Biology). All three look to be professors at the University for the course titles, “American Studies 301,” “History 367,” and “English 367.”
There is a link to the class syllabus with all three professors office hours and email addresses, as well as the teaching assistants information.
Another part of the website that solidifies its authoritativeness is a link to the University of Miami’s library database with numerous links to various documents and links.
The particular website is bid difficult to define its authoritative credentials. It is a .edu, being sponsored by the University of Virginia, however the page is extremely outdated, having not been updated since December of 2009.
There is a section of the website for credits, however it is filled with peculiar awards that the page earned from the late 1990s with links to certain pages, most of which do not work.
There is no actual authors to get in contact with, either, leaving me to believe that this site should not be used for educational purposes as its credentials are lackluster.
The Sixties Project website looks to be just as counterfeit as the previous, with its outdate and primitive-looking page coupled with its odd color scheme. However, there is a link to the authors email address, as well as a page entitled, “Scholars” that has links hundreds of various authors of other novels and educational books.
In the resources portion of the page, there is also a link to amazon.com that shows the books being cited on the page are actually real, and ready for purchasing.
While the site does look tacky, you can’t knock its authority credentials.
This site is different from all the others because its primary purpose is to sell, rather than to inform. It serves as a platform to order flowers, with one page dedicated to informing and giving background information about the 1960s.
There is an author, Hubert Cumberdale, however this is no link to his credentials. I was skeptical about the site, so I decided to Google his name, and all that comes up is a finger puppet known as Salad Fingers that grew popular back in 2005. Cleary the website is a hoax.
Also, while there are numerous links on the page, there are quite a few that do not work, solidifying my position that this site is not authoritative.