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9. Evaluating Web Sites: Clues to an author and/or publisher's background


You'll always want to know who's providing the information on a web site. Do they have the education, training, or other experience that make you think they are authorities on the subject covered? Or do they just have opinions?

The more you know about the author and/or publisher, the more confidence you can have in your decision for or against using content from that web site.

Authors and publishers can be individuals or organizations (including companies). Web masters usually don't count because they put things on the site but do not actually decide what goes on all but the smallest web sites. They just carry out others' decisions.

Sites that do not identify an author or publisher are generally considered less credible for many purposes, including term papers and other high-stakes projects.

Click for clues about an author's and/or publisher's background:

  1. If they're available, take a look at pages called such things as About this Site, About Us, or Our Team first. But you may need to browse around a site further to determine its author. Look for a link labeled with anything that seems like it would lead you to the author. For instance, what would you click on to find the name of the person who created the Victorian Web?

    Our Answer:
    Click on Credits to find it was George P. Landow, Professor of English and the History of Art, Brown University.

  2. You may find the publisher's name next to the copyright symbol (© at the bottom of at least some pages on a site.


  3. Sometimes it helps to look for a tilde symbol (~) preceding a directory name in the site address. This indicates that the page is in a "personal" directory on the server and is not an official publication of that organization. For example, you could tell that Jones' web page was not an official publication of XYZ University if his site's address was: http://www.XYZuniversity.edu/~jones/page.html. The tilde indicates it's just a personal web page--in the Residences, not Schools, neighborhood of the web. Unless you find information about the author to the contrary, the site should not be considered to have as much authority as a site officially part of the university's site.

  4. Learning what they have published before can also help you decide whether that organization or individual should be considered credible on the topic.  Listed below are resources to look for what the organization or individual may have published and what has been published about them.


Find out what the author (person or organization) has published:
Library Catalogs
Search in a large library catalog to find books written by the author.

For example:

Topical Article Database
Locate articles written by the author by using a specialized article database that covers the same topical area as information on the web site. Check your library's web site to find databases that you can use for this purpose. (Such databases are also called periodical indexes.)

For example: Use ERIC (OSU users only) to locate any articles published by the author of an education web site.

Web Article Database
Use a free web article database to search for articles by this author.  Note: While you can search for free, you may not be able to retrieve articles unless searching through a library.

For example:

 

Find out what has been written about this author:

Web Search Engine
Use a search engine to find web pages where the author's name is mentioned. (Be sure to search for the name as a phrase, as in "Jane Doe")

For example:

Full-text Article Database
Use a database that searches the full-text of articles (not just descriptive information about the article) to find those that mention people and organizations.

For example:

Specialized Biographical Sources
Use directories and indexes provided by your library to find backgrounds of people.

For example:


Make the inference: Consider the clues. Then decide the extent to which the site's author and/or publisher 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 author and/or publisher so you can combine it later with the grades you give the other factors.


Practice

Practice finding the author of sites in this short activity.

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