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:
PURPOSE OR MISSION OF SPONSOR
1. WEBSITE ADDRESS (URL)
For example: http://www.socialworkers.org/
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.
3. PURPOSE OR MISSION OF SPONSOR
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,
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
Identify who actually authored the information. Describe what you know
about the author, including relevant expertise, occupation, qualifications,
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
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: