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6-Evaluating Sources

A Source’s Neighborhood

To understand this concept and begin to use it, imagine that all the sites on the web constitute a community. Just like in a geographical community, there are neighborhoods in which individual sites hang out.

Thinking about what neighborhood a source is in on the web can help you decide whether the site is credible, relevant, and suits your purpose.

The Outernet is a comic that depicts common web sites as parts of a city - eBay is the mall, Google is the library, YouTube is the movie theatre, Facebook is a park, and Twitter is the town square. Transportation modes like buses and bikes are internet service providers.

Visualize the web as a community. (Image source: John Atkinson,
Wrong Hands)

Audio: Neighborhoods on the Web

Listen to the audio clip (or read the text version) to hear how intuitive this concept is. After you listen, the next activity will show you how to apply the concept.

Listen to Audio | View Text Version

Tip: Author’s Purpose for Print

Rather than examine print sources for their web neighborhood, examine them for their author’s purpose. Read the introduction and conclusion and look at the table of contents to discern the author’s purpose.

For instance, did the author intend to use the book or magazine article to inform/educate, persuade, sell, or entertain?

And is the author’s purpose suitable for your purpose? For instance, does the fact that a resource was intended to persuade mean it can’t help you answer your research question? (As you know from Sources and Information Needs, yes.)

Activity: Self-Check

Why might you want to read information on an advocacy site (from the neighborhood of sites that promote particular ideas and behavior)—even when you’re writing a term paper and it’s not acceptable to cite that source because it persuades instead of educates and is not objective? See the bottom of the page for the answer.

Clues About a Website’s Neighborhood

Watch the Understanding Google Search Results movie to better understand how you can quickly determine what kind of information you’ve turned up in a Google search.

Movie: Understanding Google Search Results (no audio)

View Video | View Text Version

On a website, check pages labeled About This Site, Mission, Site Index, and Site Map, if available. (If such pages or similarly labeled ones don’t exist, it may be a sign that the site may be less trustworthy.)

Ask yourself these questions to gather clues that will help you decide what neighborhood you’re in:

  • Is the site selling products and/or services (even if there are articles and other useful information, too)? Perhaps it’s a retail, service center, or corporate site.
  • Are there membership applications and requests for contributions of money or time anywhere on the site? They’re usually a sign that you’re on a site that promotes particular ideas or behavior – in other words, they’re in the advocacy neighborhood.
  • Do postings, articles, reports, and/or policy papers give a one-sided view or multiple views on issues, people, and events? If they’re one-sided, the site is probably a commercial site or in the advocacy group neighborhood. If the information is even-handed and includes different sides of an issue, the site is more likely to be on the library/museum, school, or traditional U.S. news side of town. Sites there usually provide information designed to educate rather than persuade. (This does not apply to material labeled something like Opinion, of course, just as it doesn’t apply to the editorial pages of print newspapers.)

Activity: Neighborhoods on the Web

Work through the three activities below to practice the concept of neighborhoods on the web.

Matching Site to NeighborhoodOpen activity in a web browser.

Matching Neighborhood to PurposeOpen activity in a web browser.

Which Neighborhood?Open activity in a web browser.

Example: Check Them Out

Think we’re making a mountain out of a molehill about being careful about web sources? Please click the web icons below to look at three websites. Is there an inference(s) you can make that applies to all three? Perhaps that whether a website looks professionally done is not enough to insure that it is credible.

Making the Inference

Consider the clues. Then decide the extent that the site’s neighborhood is acceptable for your purpose. It might help to grade the extent that this factor contributes to the site being suitable on a scale like this one:

  • A – Very Acceptable
  • B – Good, but could be better
  • C – OK in a pinch
  • D – Marginal
  • F – Unacceptable

You’ll want to make a note of the resource’s grade for neighborhood so you can combine it later with the grades you give the other factors.

Answer to Activity: Self-Check

The answer to the “Self-Check” Activity above is:

Advocacy sites are useful to learn about a particular viewpoint. They may provide a wealth of information—you just have to keep in mind that it’s just one side’s view and then also seek out the other side’s view.


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A Source's Neighborhood by Teaching & Learning, Ohio State University Libraries is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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