Understanding The Structure of the Web
As the infographic to the right indicates, the internet as 3 levels. See the explanations of each layer below. Additionally, check the date the website was created. In some cases, it may not matter if the source is older or hasn’t been recently updated, but in fields of study where information can rapidly change, the data may be obsolete.
The Importance of evaluating information you find on the Internet
The Internet provides A LOT of information -- both popular (including commercial websites to sell products and non-scholarly and at times non-verifiable/reliable articles) and professional/research-appropriate writings and data. Here are some strategies to determine which category a website falls into:
Check the Domain Name (found at the end of a URL)
If it is a US database, the three letters at the end of the URL will indicate whether the site is:
Educational (.edu) | Government (.gov) | Nonprofit (.org) | Commercial (.com)
Generally, .edu and .gov websites are credible, but beware of sites that use these suffixes in an attempt to mislead. Nonprofit websites may also contain reliable information, but take some time to consider the organization’s purpose and agenda to determine if it could be biased. Commercial websites, such as those of reputable news organizations, can also be good sources, but do some investigation using the strategies below to look for signs of reliability.
If the database is foreign, it will generally have a 2-letter code at the end, such as:
.mx for Mexico | .ru for Russia | .tz for Tanzania
Evaluate the Content Creators:
Who has created the website? You can often find such information on an "about us" tab and/or at the bottom of the website.
Does an article or study have any authors listed? If so, do they cite or link to authoritative sources, or are they writing their own opinions without backing these up with facts? Are their credentials listed?
Search for additional information to what you’ve found
As you find information, try to verify its authenticity and legitimacy using other reliable sites. If you find another credible site that contradicts your original source, further research may be required.
Certain sites can be useful but should be used with caution and NOT cited
|The information found on the Surface Web is freely accessible and searchable with most web browsers.
|Information located in the Deep Web is sometimes searchable via web browsers, but the full content is usually hidden behind a pay wall or is password protected to restrict use to certain people or organizations.
|Dark Web information is typically encrypted and not intended to be easily accessible. Sometimes the information is encrypted for legitimate reasons, and sometimes it's encrypted to hide illegal information or sales. Part, but not all, of the Dark Web is searchable via Dark Web browsers.