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SW 490H HIV and Social Work

Betty H. Joblin

Identify two World Wide Web sites which relate to some aspect of HIV/AIDS. At least one of the sites should be directly related to social work. Using the following guide describe and evaluate each web site.

Your evaluation should include:










For example:


Who sponsors the site and what is their motivation? Knowing something about the sponsor is a major clue for determining the quality of the information. Sponsors usually have an agenda or purpose and mission and post information that supports their agenda. Beware of website sponsors who are not up front about who they are and what their purpose is.

Be sure to thoroughly look at the full document, top to bottom and side to side. Typical pages or sites have three design elements:

the header, the body, and the footer. Explore each of these features. There is important information in each element.

The header tells you where you are. This usually includes the name of the organization or institution sponsoring the site. You will see the domain of the website, whether it is a governmental unit (.gov) (.state), a university or research institute (.edu) a commercial company (.com) or a nonprofit organization (.org). Generally, governmental and educational institutions post information that is the most reliable. You will want to be aware that commercial companies and even nonprofit organizations can post very biased information based on what they may be trying to sell or issues they wish to promote.

The body contains the main information about the website, such as its purpose and contents.

The footer usually includes the information about the source, signature, creator, sponsor, dates and contact information.


Describe the purpose or mission of the sponsor. This includes what the sponsor says about itself. Does the stated purpose match up with content that is posted? Do you see any hidden agenda on the part of the sponsor? Does the sponsor have an ax to grind on some issue?

You will find many websites which state their mission up front on the main page under the title. Others will provide you with an internal link labeled Mission, Purpose, About

Us, Read Me. After reading about the purpose, look over the content of the site to determine whether or not the information actually posted fits with the stated purpose. If the stated purpose and actual content seem to conflict you should be concerned about using the information.


Identify who actually authored the information. Describe what you know about the author, including relevant expertise, occupation, qualifications, etc.

Authorship is closely related to sponsorship. You need to know about who actually wrote the posted text as well as who sponsors the site. Differentiating between the two is important. Some organizational sponsors tell you about the expertise of those who have authored their posted text. What you are more likely to encounter is a lack of author information. In that case, you would have to email the webweaver or contact person about who the author is.


When was the website created and last updated? If you find an article posted on the website, determine the currency for the information in the article by scanning references or bibliographies. Are the references themselves outdated? If research is cited, how current is it? Always scan any type of bibliography whether on-line or in print to determine how current the content is.


Describe the scope or level of coverage of posted content. Here you need to focus on breadth and depth. Does it have considerable breadth, covering multiple facets of a topic? For example, does it cover a wide range of topics related to aging? Does it quite narrowly address a highly specialized single area of a topic in great depth? For example, does it focus in great depth on one facet of aging?

Evaluating the scope of a website is directly related to the kind of information you need. If you find yourself disappointed in how general the information is, the website obviously does not have the scope to satisfy your information needs. On the other hand, if you get lost in the contents, you are probably dealing with a website with way more depth than you need.

If a table of contents, website map, or an index is provided on the home or main webpage, you may be able to get some sense of the website's breadth. The presence of a built-in search engine for the website is another indicator of breadth, depth.

Identify the intended audience of the website. Who is it geared toward? Is it geared toward consumers or clients? Is it geared toward professionals?

The intended audience determines the language the webweaver uses, the level of technical detail, and the degree to which prior knowledge is assumed. With some websites, sections under the header identifying the website's mission or purpose may give you information on the nature of the targeted audience.

More frequently you will have to determine the intended audience by examining the body of the website. By looking at the content, especially the language, you should be able to determine the intended audience. Knowing the intended audience will also tell you a great deal about the scope of the website.


How accurate is the actual content of the information posted in the body of the website? Is the information based on sound facts or just an author's personal opinion? Does the author make reference to factual information like statistics or research findings?

Accuracy is difficult to assess, particularly when you know little about a topic. When you encounter obvious and frequent spelling and grammar errors, do not just ignore them. This undermines an author's credibility. Errors in content also suggest that the information posted is of poor or questionable quality. Look at the sources of the information posted. What sources are cited and listed in bibliographic information, and are they credible?

Inflammatory, outrageous, or misleading statements are big warning signs that the information is slanted.


Is the information posted based upon facts that are verifiable? Or, is the information posted a matter of opinion based on thoughtful analysis of the facts? Is the information blatant propaganda unrelated to anything factual? Try to separate fact from opinion. Are conflicting viewpoints presented in a fair and professional manner?

Vernon, R. and Lynch, D.(2000). Social work and the web. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth


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