Often times, teachers will send you out to search the web for information. So you type your keywords into a search engine and a list of hundreds (or thousands, or millions) of websites pop up. You're sure there's good information out there...but how can you tell if you're finding good information?

The first question you should ask yourself is:

"Do I understand what I'm reading on this site?"

If yes, great! Go on to the suggestions below.
If no...it's probably not worth using that source. :-)

Some websites are going to be better sources than others. Here's a quick four step check-up to test the quality of a website.
  1. Is the site a ".com" or a ".gov/.org/.edu"? Generally .gov or .org sites are preferred to .com sites. Why? Remember that .com sites are for companies, and while companies might put really good information on their website, they don't usually exist just for sharing the information. They are trying to sell you something.
  2. Are there a lot of ads on the page? If there are, you might be a little cautious about using the site as a source. Not that it won't have great information for you, but if there are banner ads or pop-up ads all over the page, you might question whether this page is the best choice. Think about it, why are they plopping all those annoying ads on this page? Are they just using a little bit of information to try and get you to the page, so you can click one of their ads?
  3. Is there an author's name given? Oftentimes authors are not listed on the web, so don't freak out if you can't find out who wrote the information...but it's wise to be skeptical about the information if no one will put their name with it. (Of course, on .gov or .org sites in particular, authors are not usually listed...but if you trust the organization, it's probably still a good source.)
  4. Can you easily tell the difference between facts and opinions? Online, people might present you with facts, but mix their thoughts about those facts (their opinions) right in with the facts. (This happens offline too, by the way.) It is okay for opinions to be presented, but if you can't tell whether the information you are reading online is "just the facts" or someone's ideas about those facts, you might look for another source.

It's important to remember that these three suggestions are just guidelines. If you find great information that is clearly factual on a .com site, and there's an author's name given, use it! If you find factual information on a .gov site with no author listed, don't freak out--it's probably still a good choice. But if it's a .com covered with ads with no author listed and facts and opinions are all mixed together...red alert!

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