Evaluating Internet Material
Read this article, which explains factors relevant to assessing the reliability of Internet sources. Many of the factors mentioned in this material are also relevant to assessing the reliability of other sources.
Finding Materials on the Internet
Internet search engines are powerful tools for delivering easily accessible sources of information in the research process.
Using the Internet as a Research Source
As you gather research for your speech, you’ll want to have a variety of sources from which to compile supporting evidence and facts. With the advent of digital archiving, social media, and open-source education, it’s easier than ever before to find information on the Internet. With such widespread accessibility, the Internet allows you to conduct research from just about anywhere.
Why Use the Internet?
The Internet is pervasive, easily accessible, and continually updated. It only makes sense to capitalize on this ever-evolving technology as a resource for your speech research.
In addition to convenience and accessibility, the Internet allows you to access resources to which you may not have the physical means to get previously. You might not be able to just hop on a plane to Paris and see DaVinci’s La Jaconde (more commonly known as the Mona Lisa), but thanks to the Internet, you can now browse the hundreds of works at Le Louvre right from the convenience of your laptop.
The Internet is also an excellent way to familiarize or orient yourself with an unfamiliar speech topic. While you might not be able to cite every informational source you find, using the Internet in your research process is a fast way to get yourself familiar with the basics of your speech topic, thesis, or key supporting points and arguments.
The Art of the Search Query
When getting started with most Internet research, the first thing you’ll do is open up your Internet browser and open to a search engine. While Google may dominate the search engine market, recognize that Bing, Yahoo!, Ask, and AOL Search round out the top five most popular search engines in the United States. Other popular search engines include Wolfram Alpha and Instagrok.com. Using different search engines may yield different results, so don’t limit yourself to just one search engine. Additionally, some search engines excel at certain types of information and searches more than others.
Internet information, particularly of a certain quality or standard, can be organized in other ways besides word choice and prominence (as attended by global search engines). Some information may also require further search skills to retrieve. A familiarity with midpoints like directories, “invisible” databases and an attentiveness to further types of organization may reveal the key to finding missing information. A thesaurus, for example, may prove critical to connecting information organized under the business term “staff loyalty” to information addressing the preferred nursing term “personnel loyalty” (MeSH entry for Medline by the [US] National Library of Medicine).
While each search engine may have specific search query shorthand, almost all major search engines function by using Boolean logic and Boolean search operators. Boolean logic symbolically represents relationships between entities and uses three key search operators. These operators help you form your search query:
- AND: The AND operator connects two or more terms to retrieve information that matches all of those terms. If, for example, you were searching for information about the freedom of speech in the United States, you might search for “freedom AND United States. “
- OR: The OR operator searches for information that includes at least one of the keywords included in your query. If you were researching on court cases about freedom of speech, you might search for “freedom of speech OR amendment. “
- NOT: The NOT operator excludes any keywords following the operator and retrieves the appropriate information excluding those terms. If you wanted to find out more about free speech in schools but not anything related to Supreme Court cases, you might search for “freedom of speech NOT Supreme Court. “
Types of Material on the Internet
The Internet is like an endless virtual library where thousands of new sources of information are added every second of the day. That being said, there are many different types of information to be found across the vast expanse of the Internet.
Scholarly Journals and Databases
The most common source of reliable, credible information you will find on the Internet is through scholarly journals and databases. These academic, peer reviewed collections provide you with extensive reports, case studies, articles and research studies
to help bolster your research process. Most online scholarly journals are categorized by certain subjects, professions, and fields of study and allow you to seek out the most targeted information possible. Many online journals and databases will only
let you preview an article abstract or summary, requiring a paid per-article or subscription fee to view the complete article. However, many college and university libraries have arrangements such that you don’t have to pay to view articles. Check
with your library to see if they can get you a copy of complete articles that you can’t access online. Popular online scholarly databases include:
- Academic Search Premier
- EBSCO Host
- Lexus Nexus Academic Search
- Project MUSE
Several major encyclopedia publishers have online versions of their materials. Some charge an access fee to view full entries. In 2001, Wikipedia sought to change this by creating an open-source encyclopedia edited and curated by the Internet. With over 23 million articles, entries in Wikipedia are collaboratively written by volunteers around the globe. Because of this, the quality of writing may not make it the most reliable or accurate source of information. However, if you’re just looking to get a handle on basic ideas about your speech topic, Wikipedia is a great first source to check out. Also, make sure to click through and investigate a Wikipedia’s article’s references list to find other, more quality and reliable, sources of information on the same subject.
With over 48 hours of content uploaded to YouTube every minute, YouTube has compiled more videos across every two week span (8 years of video per day) than total number of years that motion pictures have existed (117 years in 2012). Video can provide you a rich, visual depth to your Internet research, providing you with first-hand accounts, video tutorials and diaries, and citizen journalism.
Online tools such as Project Gutenberg and Google Books now allow you to access full books from the comfort of your Internet browser. Project Gutenberg is an open-source collective of full texts now in the public domain. Google Books offers both full texts and partial previews on millions of books. Because both of these resources index the content of each full text, they are searchable to find the exact content and information you need.
The Impact of Social Media
While many would dismiss the credibility and reliability of information garnered from social media sources, both Twitter and Facebook can provide intrinsic value to your Internet search. Most mainstream journalism outlets can no longer keep up social media’s immediacy of information sharing, making some into a form of citizen journalism that provides real-time, first-person accounts of world events. If you were preparing a speech about the Arab Spring or the 2012 Presidential Election, social media would be invaluable to your research tracking populist sentiment and eyewitness accounts in real-time reporting.
Evaluating Material from the Internet
Given the widespread authorship of the Internet, carefully evaluate all Internet sources for credibility, reliability, bias, and accuracy.
Evaluating Internet Material
The biggest advantage of using the Internet as a research tool is the ease with which you can find information. The biggest disadvantage, then, is parsing through the bevy of information to find credible, reliable, accurate information. The burden of filtering truth from fiction in your Internet searches lies solely with you as the researcher.
What is Search Engine Bias?
The first thing to understand about using the Internet as a source of information is that search engines are biased gateways to the information you seek. This bias may be driven by proprietary search algorithms dictated by corporate sponsors, ad revenue, and even politics, thus affecting the type of search results your queries will display. Understand that just because you’re searching for something on a popular search engine, it doesn’t mean you’re getting the full spectrum of available information about your search query.
Essential Questions to Ask When Evaluating Internet Material
When searching for reliable information on the Internet, there are several questions you should ask yourself with each source of information you find. This may seem tedious, but you don’t want your thesis to be undone by someone questioning the credibility of your research, or worse, you as a speaker.
The ADAM Approach
The ADAM approach is an acronym to help you remember the four most important things to consider when evaluating the quality of your materials found via the Internet:
- Age: How recent is the data or information presented in your source? When was the website last updated? Use only the most current information you can find.
- Depth: Does your material go in depth with your subject or merely cover the basics? Are the details from scholarly or academic sources? Look for sources that go in depth rather than provide you with just an overview of your subject.
- Author: Who wrote your source? What are their credentials? What makes them an authoritative expert on this subject? What biases might they have? Try to seek out impartial, authoritative experts when you can.
- Money: Who funds the website? Is the website trying to sell you anything? Who advertises at the website? Where else might this website be advertised? Again, you’ll want to seek out as many impartial sources as you can and you want to make sure that you fully investigate the transparency of any agenda a website might have.
Sometimes the clue to a website’s authenticity and credibility is within the actual website address itself. The following top-level domains (TLD) can give you an idea of how reliable and accurate the information may be:
- .com: The most popular TLD worldwide, originally used by commercial entities, now a de facto standard on the Internet. Reliability and credibility not always guaranteed.
- .edu: Only schools, colleges, universities and other educational institutions can use this TLD, often indicating a reliable source of information.
- .gov: Only government organizations may use this TLD. Guaranteed to be both accurate and credible.
- .org: Originally reserved for non-profit organizations (NPO) or non-government organizations (NGO), this TLD can be used by commercial entities. In 2012, a.ngo TLD has been added to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) as a domain extension.
- .net: Primarily used by internet service providers. Depending on what kind of information you’re looking for, sites with a.net TLD may or may not provide you with any useful information.
Social Media and Multimedia Sources
Audio, video, and multimedia materials that have been recorded, then broadcast, distributed, or archived by a reputable party may also meet the necessary criteria to be considered reliable sources. Like text sources, media sources must be produced by a reliable third party and be properly cited. Additionally, an archived copy of the media must exist. It is convenient, but by no means necessary, for the archived copy to be accessible via the Internet.
The rapid growth of social media and its ability to disseminate relevant information to multiple users based on shared interests and relationships has increased its importance in the world of Internet research. Wikipedia, one of the most popular wiki websites in the world, relies on scholarly material and crowdsourcing to provide accurate, targeted, and comprehensive information to the masses.
When using social media sources, researchers should be aware of sites that have a poor reputation for checking facts or for moderating content. Such sources also attract publishers expressing extremist views, promoting products, or posting false and inaccurate information.
For that reason, self-published media – whether e-books, newsletters, open wikis, blogs, social networking pages, Internet forum postings, or tweets – should be used with caution. Self-published material may be acceptable when it has been produced by an established expert on the topic at hand, and whose work in the relevant field has been previously published by reliable third-party publications.
Source: Boundless, https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-communications/chapter/internet-research/
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