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8. Evaluating Web Sites: Clues to a source's neighborhood on the Web


Thinking about what neighborhood a source is in on the web can help you decide whether the site is credible, relevant, and suits your purpose. Here's how:

To understand this concept and begin to use it, imagine that all the sites on the web constitute a community. Just like in a geographical community, there are neighborhoods in which individual sites hang out.

The first activity below will show how intuitive this concept is. After you listen to the audio clip, the second activity will show you how to apply the concept.

Image courtesy of Wrong Hands


Matching Activity: Consider the descriptions on the left. Choose the matching neighborhood type that matches. (Hint: Do the easiest ones first.). One is done for you.

Sources: Sidler, Michelle. "Web Research and Genres in Online Databases: When the Glossy Page Disappears." Computers and Composition, 19.1 (2002) 57-70. Access Article (OSU users only)

Steven Doheny-Farina, The Wired Neighborhood, Yale University Press, 1996. View book info in catalog.


Audio Clip

Listen to this audio clip about neighborhoods

Read this instead

Pop Quiz

1.  Drag each web neighborhood on the right to the purpose for which its information is suitable on the left in this matching activity.

2. Why might you want to read information on an advocacy site (from the neighborhood of sites that promote particular ideas and behavior) - even when you're writing a term paper and it's not acceptable to cite that source because it persuades instead of educates and is not objective?

Our Answer:
Advocacy sites are useful to learn about a particular viewpoint. They may provide a wealth of information - you just have to keep in mind that it's just one side's view and then also seek out the other side's view.

Click for clues about a web site's neighborhood:

  1. Watch the Understanding Google Search Results movie to better understand how you can quickly determine what kind of information you've turned up in a Google search.

  2. On a web site, check pages labeled About This Site, Mission, Site Index, and Site Map, if available. (If such pages or similarly labeled ones don't exist, it may be a sign that the site may be less trustworthy.) Ask yourself these questions to gather clues that will help you decide what neighborhood you're in:
  • Is the site selling products and/or services (even if there are articles and other useful information, too)? Perhaps it's a retail, service center, or corporate site.

  • Are there membership applications and requests for contributions of money or time anywhere on the site? They're usually a sign that you're on a site that promotes particular ideas or behavior - in other words, they're in the advocacy neighborhood.

  • Do postings, articles, reports, and/or policy papers give a one-sided view or multiple views on issues, people, and events? If they're one-sided, the site is probably a commercial site or in the advocacy group neighborhood. If the information is even-handed and multiple-sided, the site is more likely to be on the library/museum, school, or traditional U.S. news side of town. Sites there usually provide information designed to educate rather than persuade. (This does not apply to material labeled something like Opinion, of course, just as it doesn't apply to the editorial pages of print newspapers.)
Make the inference: Consider the clues. Then decide the extent to which the site's neighborhood is acceptable for your purpose. It might help to grade the extent to which this factor contributes to the site being a suitable on a scale like this one:


You'll want to make a note of the web site's grade for neighborhood so you can combine it later with the grades you give the other factors.


In this short activity, practice deciding what neighborhoods these sites are in.

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