Practice: Evaluating Purpose

See more lessons on evaluating purpose linked here.


Overview

You will learn:

  • What to look for and what questions to ask when evaluating the purpose of a website

Video: Evaluating Purpose

Watch the video below to learn more about evaluating purpose:

Evaluating the Purpose of a Website

It’s important to figure out the purpose of a website because it’s not always clear what the author’s intent is.

There are some red flags you should look out for when evaluating online sources. We will review what these are so you know what to pay attention to!

The design of a website can be professional and have great navigation, but the content could be skewed, misinformed, or even completely false.

Who or What is Behind the Content?

When evaluating for purpose, a good starting point is to check out the page that explains the company behind the website’s content. This is commonly located at the bottom of the page, but can sometimes be located elsewhere.

It can be labeled as:

  • About Us
  • Our Story
  • Mission Statement

The “About Us” page will explain the purpose and goals of the company or organization. It may also include information about the history of the company or its intended audience.

But be careful, some organizations, companies, and people aren’t upfront about their purpose, so you need to look at other factors as well.

Apply It: Evaluate the Manhattan Airport Foundation

Take a look at The Manhattan Airport Foundation (TMAF) website, for example. Can you figure out who is behind this website?

Do you see the red flag?

This website has great design and content. The “About Us” section looks legitimate, but there aren’t any specific people mentioned. After some investigation, it appears the website is a (very convincing) hoax!

Apply It: The Wirecutter

Go to The Wirecutter’s “Hello!” page. What can you learn about the company?

This page provides more information about the company and its history, its processes, as well as the names of the editors.

Look for Red Flags

You should definitely be suspicious if you do not see any information about the person or organization who runs the website. If they cannot even explain who they are or what they do, they probably are not authoritative enough to inform you on other topics.

Don’t Judge a Site By Its Design

Of course, it is imperative that you analyze the content you want to cite in your paper. A website could have great design and a detailed “About Us” section, but if the purpose of the article is to do something besides informing you about information in a balanced way, that should be another red flag.

We’ll go through some questions you can ask to figure out if the information you want to use is appropriate for research.

Top-Level Domains

The top-level domain can help you figure out who is responsible for a website’s content. Consider the top-level domain when you are analyzing the purpose and how the top-level

domain may impact the website’s credibility. For example:

.gov

The top-level domain .gov is for U.S. government agencies. Their purpose is to inform you and information found on these sites are authoritative, informative, and credible.

Sales & Advertisements

Read through the article or information you want to cite in your paper.

Is the purpose to Sell or Advertise?

  • Is the website or author trying to sell you something?
  • Are there advertisements all over the website?

Apply It: Analyzing Online Videos

Analyzing the purpose of online content does not just apply to articles with text. Videos can also be used to educate, or to skew the truth so that you will want to buy or use a product.

Watch this video on malware, published by www.onguardonline.gov.

Based on what you have learned so far, think about the video’s purpose and why it would be a good resource to use when learning about malware. Is this a better source than you might find by going to Google and searching for malware videos, for example?

When you use search engines to find information, be careful when you analyze a website’s purpose. If you are going to a trusted source like a government website, whose purpose is to educate the public, you don’t need to be quite as careful. But you should still think critically about the information they are giving you.

Gossip & Entertainment

Read through the article or information you want to cite in your paper.

Is the purpose to Entertain?

  • Is the information you want to use considered gossip?
  • Is it speculative, or without reliable references?
  • Is it meant entirely for entertainment purposes?

Satire

Read through the article or information you want to cite in your paper.

Is the purpose Satirical?

  • Satire is when humor, sarcasm, or irony is used to poke fun at or criticize people’s flaws, ignorance, or stupidity.
  • Satire can be either exaggerated, or completely made up.

One example is the article “Takeout Burrito Shielded From Cold As Though It Were Week-Old Newborn.”

It is from The Onion, which writes humorous, but completely false, stories.

Is It Academic?

Read through the article or information you want to cite in your paper.

Is the article or website content Academic?

  • Is the article written by a scholar?
  • Is the website associated with a college, university or a professional journal

Information found on academic websites can almost always be considered credible and authoritative, as their purpose is to inform readers.​

Additional Factors: Timeliness, Audience, Depth & Breadth of Information

There are some other factors to consider when evaluating the purpose of a website as well:

Timeliness

  • When was the information published?
  • Is there more recent information available?

Audience

  • Who is the audience for this website?
  • Is it targeted to children? Scholars? Average people?

Depth of Information

  • Does the source provide a deep, thorough analysis of information on the web site?

Breadth of Information

  • What is the breadth of information covered on the topic?

Conclusion

You learned:

  • What factors to consider when evaluating an online source’s purpose
  • Questions to ask when evaluating a website for purpose:
    • Who or what is behind the content?
    • Is the top-level domain known to have credible content?
    • Is the website or author trying to sell you something?
    • Is the purpose to entertain?
    • Is the content a satire?
    • Is it academic?
    • Who is the audience for this website?
    • Does the timeliness affect the information?
    • What is the depth and breadth of information?