Another important issue you must evaluate is the objectivity of the web source. To evaluate the objectivity of the web source, you must first determine its purpose and then you’ll want to consider if it contains any biases.
Question 1: What is the purpose of the web source?
Websites generally can be grouped into four different categories: informational/news, business/marketing, advocacy, and personal. All of these categories may be useful to you at one point or another. Scholarly sources will often fall into the informational/news category. How do you know if the site falls under the informational/news category? The purpose of informational or news websites is to provide you with factual information. Informational sources often end in .edu (educational institution) or .gov (government agency).
The other categories—business/marketing, advocacy, and personal—may be as useful as sources in the informational/news category, depending upon your writing situation. Let’s consider two examples. If you’re a business major, you may have to find out information about a business’ purpose, goals, objectives, history, and so on. While a website that falls into “business/marketing” category may have a primary purpose to market some item, it is likely that you’ll find this kind of information on its website and that the information will apply and be valuable to your writing situation. Now let’s say you’re writing a paper about water conservation, and you’ve come across a website that advocates various environmental issues. You find a comprehensive report written by authorities well-respected in the field. Can you use the report? Most likely, you’ll use the report. While many non-profit organizations (.org) advocate a certain viewpoint, you can also find valuable information or reports that may apply to your writing situation. You’ll want to be aware of a source’s perspectives and agenda when you decide whether to use the source.
Question 2: Does the web source convey any biases?
Question two also aims to increase your understanding of the purpose of the web source; deciding what category (discussed briefly above) the website fits into may help a great deal in determining if the website has any biases. Advocacy and personal websites in particular may be prone to bias. However, in addition to determining the purpose of the website itself, you must evaluate if the author of the particular article or page you are reading has any biases.
As Kirk (1996) points out, “information is rarely neutral,” but you want to avoid sources where the author is not reasonable. Ask yourself about the author’s political, social, or professional background and how that background impacts the source. The author should be fair in his or her views, so you may want to ask yourself is there any information that the author is not including but should be. When alternative viewpoints are presented, how did the author handle it? Bias may or may not impact the usefulness of the source, but you want to be wary of emotional appeals, misleading information, and politically-skewed language.