Information source evaluation
Scientific publishing means that an article published in a top journal has gone through a preliminary inspection before publication (Referee & Peer review see under) and after the publication the scientific community has had a chance to comment on the contents of the article. This applies to both printed and electronic scientific periodicals but a single web document has not necessarily gone through a similar inspection and evaluation.
Referee publication = Articles in a referee publication are evaluated before publication. The referees are experts in their field.
Peer review = Articles have been evaluated by peers i.e. experts on the same field.
In the net we are like in a supermarket; quality products are available in the shelf alongside lesser grade copies. How to sort the wheat from the chaff quickly without having to try all the available products? How to limit the search so that the result is not 15000 web documents?
The applicability of the information is emphasized in
information searches in the web. A single topic such as film supply in
Helsinki this evening can be reached via several documents and
services. It may be insignificant which service you use you just find
the film which interests you and the information of the cinema which
puts it on show. But if you are searching for information for your
seminar work you want to be sure that the resources you find qualify
for a seminar work.
When using documents it is worth keeping in mind the following factors which affect the quality of information and the result of the information search. When web documents are being used as information sources, for example for a thesis, it is worth considering the criteria mentioned separately for each document. Do they qualify for the resources of a thesis?
Many factors affect the quality of information sources:
The authority of the document. A web
document does not necessarily go through similar inspection as material
which has gone via traditional publication channels. Are the producer
and the person/organisation that are in charge of the contents of the
document clearly stated in the document? Can you verify this
Is the document up to date and has it been corrected. Keeping up the data content, updating the content and archiving old information on web documents. Can it be clearly stated when the document was last updated?
The accuracy of the document.The accuracy of the information and language used in the document and the accuracy and exactness of the used references. Do the links in the document work and are the sources used mentioned in the document? In favourable cases the sources of information have been cited so that information can be checked from the original sources.
Scope of the source of information.The capability of web-based information services to do extensive searches and overlaps in the information received. The extensiveness of web sources on different fields. All disciplines and all continents are not comparable in the amount and availability of web documents.
Objectivity of the document. An intentional or concealed bias in the handling of the information or content. Can you recognise a commercial?
History of the document. The information in the document in relation to earlier/later documents with the same name cf. reprint/revised edition.
The scope, method and purpose of the document. A foreword-like abstract of the documents content where the general purpose of the document is stated (why is it in the web in the first place), the exclusions, level of depth, scope and topicality? If there is such an abstract available the user may more easily be able to estimate the usability and applicability of the document for his/her purpose.
Users of the document. For whom the service or document is intended?
Format of the document. Document format adapts to the user interface (that is responsibility is passed to the user) and the information provider answers for the structure of the document.
Organising the document or service. The accessibility of systematic information can be ensured and improved by e.g. the document's internal logical structure or by metadata added to the HTML document describing the content of the document.
Technical aspects related to the use of document. Downloading, support and reliability of the necessary software.
Price and accessibility of the source of information. The pricing of the web document, various user identification etc. matters. Several journals give their tables of contents for free but reading the article itself may require (chargeable) contract of use.
User support for the source of information. The availability of additional information.