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SPE112 - Arthur Taylor - Fundamentals of Debate: Find Websites

Helpful Websites

First Televised Presidential Debate

Evaluating Websites

Follow these steps to determine the validity of a website: 

1. Evaluate the URL Since search engine results list URLs, you can begin evaluating a website before you visit it. If the URL begins with a commercial ISP (aol.com, earthlink.net, msn.com, etc.) or free hosting service (myspace.com, geocities.com, blogger.com, etc.) and contains a person's name or screen name, the link points to a personal website. Information from personal websites often takes longer to verify. Keeping the type of information you're looking for in mind, ask yourself whether you're likely to find reliable information from the government, educational institutions or not-for-profit organizations (.gov, .edu, .org). If you're looking for sites from other countries, you may want to consider the country code (.ca, .uk, .au, etc.).

 2. Evaluate the Author or Publisher Once you've clicked through to a website and scanned it to see if it contains the kind of information you are looking for, you will want to ask yourself a few questions about who wrote or published the information, and for what purpose. If the page is signed and contains the author's email address, you may wish to check the site for the author's biography or do a search on the author's name to see if he or she is a recognized expert on your topic. If the page is not attributed to an author, you will want to ask yourself who published the information (usually the owner of the domain name in the URL) and whether or not they claim responsibility for information appearing on their site. If they do, you can evaluate the publisher as you would the author. Check the home page for information about the publisher's purpose (often found in links titled "About Us," "Philosophy," "Background," etc.). If the website quotes other sources, an article in "The New York Times," for example, you should check "The New York Times," either through the paper's website or a newspaper database to verify that the article was quoted correctly.

 3. Evaluate Timeliness If you are researching a topic where timeliness is an important factor, make sure to check the website to find when the information was last updated. If a significant amount of time has passed, the author may have abandoned the site and the information may no longer be current. If the information is not dated at all, it is probably a good idea to look elsewhere.

4. What Do Others Think? Another way to evaluate the usefulness of a website is to find out who is linking to it. If the websites of many reputable organizations or acknowledged experts on the topic you are researching link to the website you are evaluating from their own websites, the odds are better that the information is useful. To find out who is linking to a specific page, enter link:URL into a search engine. From these results, you can visit the linking pages to find out what others say about the site.

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Jeanne Tuohey
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