The CARS Checklist: It takes you where you want to go!
The CARS* checklist is a good tool for learning to evaluate websites. Most websites will not get a perfect score on the CARS checklist, but when you use CARS you will be much more likely to find high quality sites. Here is what CARS stands for, and what it means.
Credibility: Believability. Whose information are you using? Why should you trust this source? Are the authors experts? How can you find out? If there is no author, what group created the website, and why should you trust them? Does the site use bad grammar, punctuation or spelling?
Accuracy: Is the information up to date? Are there enough details to give you a full understanding of the topic? Some subjects, like history, stay accurate for a long time, but old information, even written by an expert, becomes outdated. Other subjects, like science, are frequently updated with new discoveries. Still other subjects, like technology, change constantly. Also, ask yourself who the website is aimed at, and what is the purpose of the site. Can you understand it? A site for experts may have very reliable information, but be beyond the understanding of an elementary school student. That website is useless to you, even if it is good. Find another one.
Reasonableness: Is the information fair? Objective?
Does the website present information in a factual, unbiased way? If the topic has more than one side to the story, are all sides presented? Can you make your own conclusions about the topic from the information, or does the website seem to want to lead you to a particular point of view? Be aware that some websites, while providing good information, are created by people or groups with a particular goal in mind. Would you want to get information for a project about healthy eating from a candy company, for example? Another test of reasonableness is to ask yourself whether the information you find seems likely. If it seems unbelievable, according to what you know, maybe it is.
Support: Where does the website get its information?
Most good websites list their sources of information. They want you to know they have done their own quality research so that you will have useful, reliable information to use. Ask yourself: Are the sources listed? Does the website use information from expert people or expert sites? Does the website lead you to other good websites with similar information? That's usually a sign that the information is reliable. If websites disagree, you need to do more research to see why this is so. For example, if you are researching pandas and find differing information on panda diet, read to see whether the sites are discussing wild pandas, which forage on their own, or pandas in captivity, whose food is provided by humans. Big difference!
And one more thing!
Design and Technology
Website design also affects website usefulness. Websites that are very busy looking, have a lot of advertising, or so many pictures that the pages load slowly, make it harder to focus on the information. Students often become distracted by unimportant or irrelevant information, or impatient with a slow-loading page. All of these things can slow down your research and make it harder to focus on finding useful information. Evaluating the look of a website is also important.
*Source: Evaluating Internet Research Sources
Robert Harris, Ph.D.
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