WEBTREATS: Quick Tips for Finding, Evaluating, Processing, and Organizing Information on the Web

FINDING SPECIFIC INFORMATION ON THE WEB

Use search engines - websites that search for information on other websites.  Examples include Yahoo, Google, and Bing.

  • Learn how to use one search engine well so you can do more advanced searches.
  • Most help screens will tell you everything you need to know; print them out and keep them handy.
  • Try searching several search engines if you can’t find what you need in your favorite.

Try metasearch engines, which search multiple search engines in one search.  Examples include MetaCrawler and DogPile.  Searching with metasearch engines saves time as you are searching multiple sources simultaneously.  However, as different search engines use different commands and formats, you may not find as much  through a metasearch as through advanced searches in each individual search engine.

Go directly to the home page of the logical source of information and use its search engine.  For example, if you want College guidelines, go directly to the College’s home page rather than use a general search engine.

Go directly to a metasite - a reputable site with lots of subject-related links.  For example, if you need health statistics, try searching FEDSTATS, a general source for Federal statistics.  Ipl2 is an example of a general metasite.

FINDING WEBSITES FOR SPECIFIC ORGANIZATIONS OR TOPICS

Use a search engine to search for the name of the organization.  Refer to search help screens for the best technique.

Check links in related websites (e.g. the College has WEBTREATS, quick guides to Internet resources prepared by Resource Center Librarians.)

Check links in metasites, e.g. HealthfinderMedlinePlus.

Watch for notices on listservs. For example, Ob-Gyn-L and MEDLIB-L often publicize new sites.

Read about sites:

  • In regular columns in medical journals.
  • In Internet columns in your local newspaper.
  • In articles in computer magazines, e.g. Medicine on the Net.

Ask your librarian for suggestions.  The College librarians produce WEBTREATS, brief guides to specific sites or topics.

EVALUATING WHAT YOU HAVE FOUND

Quick criteria that you should always use:

  • Source of information:  Is the source reputable?  You can usually rely on federal government and national professional organizations to post quality information, but use links from these sites with caution.
  • Timeliness of information:  Is the information current?
  • Comprehensive:  Does the level and depth of information meet your needs?

Use pre-evaluated sites:  What have you read about the site in other sources?  However, even if someone else recommends it, check it out to make sure it meets your needs.

Suggestions for a more comprehensive review+

Technical Issues: Does Site Work?

  • Site has a stable URL.  When the URL changes, the change is widely publicized and the link to the new site is seamless from the old site.  The user is warned that site has a new URL, and the old link continues to work for a reasonable amount of time.
  • Access to site is reliable. The host computer and Internet connections are stable and large enough to support traffic.
  • Links to outside pages work and are checked frequently as part of routine site maintenance.
  • User can move quickly to home page and other pages within site.
  • Site provides a global search interface for finding information on the site.  Engine is easy to use and gives reliable results.  Connecting to the search interface should be available on the home page and on all other major pages of the site, preferably through a standard search icon.
  • Site has excellent help screens.
  • Site has an easy to use place for users to leave e-mail messages for the site administrator, who responds to messages in a timely and appropriate manner.

Design of Site:

  • URL is on every page, so that users always know where they are.  The URL should always print.
  • Host organization is clearly identified on all pages.
  • Site has logical organization of information.
  • Logical internal links are on every page, e.g. to return home, to search, to send messages.
  • Icons match functions and are consistent throughout site.
  • Pages are legible: Type size and font are easily read, background and graphics do not interfere with information.
  • Graphics illustrate information, are eye-catching, and don’t slow down access to information.
  • Pages are attractive.
  • Spelling and grammar are accurate throughout site.

Authority/Disclosure of Host Organization:

  • Purpose of site is stated on home page or linked from home page.
  • Host organization is reputable.
  • An adequate description of organization, including purpose and membership criteria, is on home page or link from home page.
  • Contact information - including e-mail, address, telephone, fax number - is on home page or link from home page.
  • Site lists a qualified editorial board, with credentials.
  • Authors/editors are indicated, with credentials, if different from site administrator.
  • Guidelines for site development and maintenance are stated and include frequency of updates and quality control procedures.
  • Copyright is indicated when needed, especially if using other sources.  Site is in compliance with copyright law.
  • Confidential information from users is kept confidential.  Confidentiality policy and security measures are stated up front.
  • Any sources of sponsorship and support are disclosed.
  • Advertising on site is justified and explained.
  • All potential conflicts of interest are identified: for host organization, site administrator, authors,  editorial board, and links.
  • Any limits to access or restrictions on use of contents by user are explained.

Currency of Information on Site:

  • Pages are dated.
  • Information on site is updated regularly.
  • Frequency of updates is indicated.

Contents of Site: Quality and Quantity of Information:

  • Intended audience (e.g. physicians, consumers) is identified.
  • Does level and depth of information match the intended audience?
  • Can intended audience access all pages?
  • Volume of available information on site is sufficient to justify site.
  • Information is accurate.
  • Attribution: Information is verifiable: sources of information are clearly identified, with appropriate citations and references.
  • Information and sources cited are credible.
  • Information is peer-reviewed, and the process of  peer review is stated.
  • Information is unbiased and objective.  Any biases must be stated.
  • Links to other sites are logical, appropriate, and useful to the intended user.

PROCESSING AND ORGANIZING

WHAT YOU HAVE FOUND

Instructions on printing and saving the information that you have found are specific to your net browser. Your help screens should tell you what you need to know.  Some programs (e.g. AOL) also offer a tutorial and manual.

Use bookmarks, which enable you to store URLs in a logical sequence for future retrieval:

  • Only bookmark sites that you will use.  Don’t bookmark everything - you’ll never be able to maintain them or find anything!
  • Bookmark metasites (e.g., FEDSTATS) with general links rather than lots of individual related links.
  • Test your bookmarks periodically to ensure that the URLs are still current.
  • Organize your bookmarks so you can find the one you need quickly:
    • Set up a system that fits your needs.
    • Understand how your net browser manages bookmarks lists.  It will probably be an alphabetic list.
    • Keep the bookmarks for sites that you use most often close to the top of your list (e.g. ob-gyn sites, search engines).
    • Use broad categories with specific related sites listed underneath.

+based upon and modified from:

Silberg MW, Lundberg GD, Musacchio RA: Assessing, controlling, and assuring the quality of medical information on the Internet.  JAMA 1997;277:1244-1245.

Horton R: Sponsorship, authorship, and a tale of two media.  Lancet 1997;349:1411-1412

(Anon.): The web of information inequality.  Lancet 1997;349:1781

Presentations by Ms. Jane Bryant at the MLA meeting in Seattle, May, 1997 and Ms. Cecelia Durkin at June, 1997 DOCHSIN meeting.

See also: Key to good information about your health. In: Encyclopedia of Women's Health. Washington DC: The College, 2000, pp 512-517

Trust me: I’m a Website. BMJ 2002;324(7337) (entire issue)

Internet Sites on Evaluating Health Information:

DISCERN

Evaluating Internet Health Information: A Tutorial from the National Library of Medicine (NLM)  

How to Evaluate Health Information on the Internet.  NIH Office  of Dietary Supplements 

Trust It or Trash It? The Access To Credible Genetics (ATCG) Resource Network

A User’s Guide to Finding and Evaluating Health Information on the Web (MLA)

This WEBTREAT, prepared by the College Resource Center Librarians from other sources, is provided for information only.  Referral to these sites does not imply the endorsement of The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of either the organization or their contents, expressed views, programs, or political activities.  Further, the College does not endorse any commercial products that may be advertised or available from these organizations or on these websites. This list is not meant to be comprehensive; the exclusion of a site does not reflect the quality of that site.  Please note that sites  are subject to change without warning.

Last reviewed 3/11/2014  weborg.doc

Contact:

Mary Hyde
Director

Debra Scarborough
Special Collections Librarian

Jean Riedlinger
Reference Librarian

Pamela Van Hine
Reference Librarian

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