Contemporary Canadian Government & Politics:
A Practical Research Guide

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4. Finding and Evaluating Substantive Information
Finding Information Evaluating Information

Evaluating Information: Internet Sites

Books Articles Authors Writing Annotations/Reviews

The main points considered in evaluating books and articles also apply to evaluating information found on web sites. The following are some specific things to also consider with web sites:
Topic:
Knowing whether a web site, or text found on a web site, will be on topic and appropriate can be difficult if it was found using a search engine. This is not surprising given that keyword searching finds all instances of the words you enter, given the wide variety of information on the Internet, the many different contexts in which the same words can be used, the fact that search engines present web pages out of context, and that many web page developers do not include identifying information on their pages. Ways to minimize these problems are to use a search engine that presents results in a helpful way, such as with the keyword in context, showing the text's revision date, and that has a clear ranking formula based on where and/or how often the words appear in the text rather than on fees paid. Starting a search with a subject directory created by academic libraries for academic research is one way of avoiding the problems with keyword searching. These subject directories are like online bibliographies; they are collections of links (sometimes even annotated) to selected sources chosen for their appropriateness for academic research. See for example the list of Directories at Mount Allison University's Internet Search Engines and Directories page (Scroll to the bottom for directories). Other, more general use subject directories can also be useful depending on the type of information sought (e.g. Canadian Information By Subject by the National Library of Canada.)
Authority:
Is an author given? Is there an e-mail address or other contact information? (Note that the webmaster may have nothing to do with the information.) Is the author affiliated with, or does the site belong to a government body, a university or research institute? Is there a logo, banner, header or footer that indicates an organization responsible for the text? If none of this is clear, the information should be suspect. Check the URL: you can back up to the URL's main address to see whose server the information is on and how they link to the information. Watch for domain name endings that indicate the type of site: e.g. .com = commercial, .org, .gov, .edu, although the last two do not apply to Canadian web sites. Even if information identifying the author is given on a web site, chances are the information on the site has not been peer reviewed or gone through any kind of editorial process, so should not be relied upon for most research projects.
Currency:
Is there a date given for when the text was written or the web site created? A revision date? Are many of the links not working or descriptions of links out of date?
Objectivity:
As with articles in journals, evaluate the objectivity of the text you are viewing as well as of the web site it is on. What is the purpose of the site? Is it intended for educational or research purposes, or commercial purposes? Advertising banners, links to companies and products, especially if unrelated to the topic of the text, are clues the site is not a serious, academic site and may just exist to promote products. Domain names ending in .com are commercial sites, but not all commercial sites will have that ending.
TIPS:
Evaluating Web Sites: Criteria and Tools. By Michael Engle, Cornell University. http://www.library.cornell.edu/okuref/webeval.html

Evaluating Web Sources. By Jeff Lilburn, Mount Allison University. http://www.mta.ca/library/web_source_evaluation.html
Government Information on the Internet:
Canadian government Internet sites do not have the .gov ending that the American government sites do. Most federal sites have the .gc.ca ending (gc= Government of Canada). All federal sites are supposed to have the Canadian flag on the home page, and follow the standards set out in the Government of Canada Internet Guide. http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/ig-gi/index_e.asp

However, not all government agencies follow these guidelines to the letter, and some Internet sites have mixed funding/support or contributing members, sometimes a combination of government and private organizations, so the appearance of government sites can still vary a great deal. Look for a contact name or other statement of responsibility for the site as a whole and/or for the information you are using (they may be different).

The official home page of each provincial and territorial government follows the standard format: http://www.gov.[2 letters for province].ca (as in www.gov.on.ca for Ontario), except for New Brunswick. As of April, 2000 the New Brunswick government (the only officially bilingual province in the country) changed its standard address to www.gnb.ca to better reflect the bilingual nature of the province. Most provincial and territorial web sites will be recognizable as such by their URL, although some exceptions exist.

Municipal governments, especially in small towns, may not have an "official" government site. Some have information posted on the web sites of the local chamber of commerce, the economic development corporation, tourism or cultural organizations. It can be difficult to determine what exactly is government information in some of these cases.

Government information, whether in a printed publication or on the Internet, is generally factual and reliable. As with all sources however, beware of political bias. Government authored reports are unlikely to be critical of their own policies, and the information they do NOT provide can be as revealing as the information they do.

Books Articles Authors Writing Annotations/Reviews
Finding Information Evaluating Information
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