1.4 The internet – using information found online
You may be someone who uses the internet fairly regularly to search for information, or perhaps you are still quite a novice. It is widely used to find out about leisure interests, health issues, to contact friends using social media sites or to look for study opportunities. The web is also a very valuable learning tool – providing virtually limitless access to a huge range of ideas, libraries, courses and people. It has also become in the last few years an important way of storing and accessing information about a community, and for community members to exchange information between themselves.
But given the ever-increasing volume of information on the internet, some of which may not be entirely accurate or reliable, it is all the more important to have a way of evaluating the information you find.
By evaluating, we mean judging how accurate the information is likely to be. This is especially important because information found on the web is not subject to regulation or quality control. This means that information might be out of date, misleading or even dangerous.
Fortunately, many people have spent time considering how to evaluate web-based information, or websites. A useful checklist has been developed by The Open University so that its students can be fairly sure of the quality of their sources. This is known as the PROMPT checklist, and is shown in the video below.
Here’s an explanation of each of the terms (in relation to using the internet).
- Presentation – ask yourself about the appearance of the website:
- Is the information clearly communicated?
- Is the website easy to navigate?
- Is the language clear and easy to understand?
- Relevance – ask yourself whether the website is really the most suitable for your needs:
- What is the information mainly about?
- Does the information match my needs?
- Objectivity – ask yourself whether the website is likely to give a balanced view of the topic it covers:
- Does the author of the information on the website make their position or any vested interest clear?
- Is the author likely to be biased?
- Is the language emotive or designed to persuade?
- Method – ask yourself if the information provided backs up or supports any claims that are made on a website. This might be information about the ‘experts’ quoted, or the source of ‘facts’. Is it clear how the information was collected?
- If ‘experts’ are mentioned, are they named?
- Are links provided to any research data?
- Do you trust the information provided and the claims made?
- Provenance – ask yourself about the authenticity of the website and reliability of the place where the information provided comes from:
- Is it clear where the information has come from?
- You might consider the website address or URL (uniform resource locator) - academic websites in the UK, like The Open University, usually end with ‘ac.uk’ and in the USA they usually end in ‘edu’.
- Is the author or organisation responsible for the website clearly identified?
- Is the author or organisation likely to be trustworthy?
- Timeliness – ask yourself whether the information on a website is likely to be sufficiently up to date for your needs:
- Is it clear when the information was produced?
- Does the date of the information meet your requirements (does it matter for your purpose)?
- Could the information be out of date?