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Humanities Libertexts

4.7: Website Authors and Publishers

  • Page ID
    7533
  • Just like with a printed source, first, we need to consider the author and the publisher of a website. Lowe whom I mentioned earlier suggest that first we need to look at the tag in the website’s URL. Whether it is a “.com,” a “.org,” a “.net, ”or a “.edu” site can offer useful clues about the types of materials located on the site and about their credibility.

    In addition to the three most common URL tags which are listed above, websites of military organizations use the extension “.mil” while websites hosted in other countries have other tags which are usually abbreviations of those countries’ names. Sites of government agencies end in “.gov.” For example, most sites hosted in Great Britain have the tag “uk” which stands for “United Kingdom.” Websites out of Italy usually have the tag “it,” and so on.

    Typically, a “.com” site is set up to sell or promote a product or service. Therefore, if you are researching Nike shoes, you will probably not want to rely on http://www.nike.com/ if you want to get a more or less unbiased review of the product. While Nike’s website may provide some useful information about the products it sells, the site’s main purpose is to sell Nike’s goods, playing up the advantages of their products their competitors’.

    Keep in mind that not all “.com” websites try to sell something. Sometimes, academics and other professionals obtain “.com” addresses because they are easy to obtain. For example, the (www.joeselvaggio.com). Political candidates running for office also often choose “.com” addresses for their campaign websites. In every case, you need to apply your critical reading skills and your judgment when evaluating a website.

    The “.org” sites usually belong to organizations, including political groups. These sites can present some specific challenges to researchers trying to evaluate their credibility and usefulness for their research. To understand these challenges, let us consider the “.org” sites of two political research organizations, also known as “think tanks.” One is the conservative Heritage Foundation (http://www.heritage.org), and the is the traditionally liberal Center for National Policy (http://www.cnponline.org).

    Both sites have “About” pages intended to explain to their readers the goals and purposes of the organizations they represent. The Heritage Foundation’s site, contains the following information:

    …The Heritage Foundation is a research and educational institute - a think tank - whose mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense. (http://www.heritage.org/about)

    This statement can tell a researcher a lot about the research articles and other materials contained in the site. It tells us that the authors of the site are not neutral, nor do they pretend to be. Instead, they are advancing a particular political agenda, and so, when used as research sources, the writings on the site should not be seen as unbiased “truths”, but as arguments.

    The same is true of the Center for National Policy’s website, although its authors choose a different rhetorical strategy explaining their political leanings to the readers. They write:

    The Center for National Policy (CNP) is a non-profit, non-partisan public policy organization located in Washington, DC. Founded in 1981, the Center’s mission is to engage national leaders with new policy options and innovative programs designed to advance progressive ideas in the interest of all Americans (http://www.cnponline.org/people_and_programs.html).

    It takes further study of the Center’s website, as well as a certain knowledge of the American political scene to realize that the organization is leaning towards the left of the political spectrum. The websites of both organizations contain an impressive amount of research, commentaries, and other materials designed to advance the groups’ causes.

    When evaluating “.org” sites, it is important to realize that they belong to organizations, and each organization has a purpose or a cause. Therefore, each organizational website will try to advance that cause and fulfill that purpose by publishing appropriate materials. Even if the research and arguments presented on those sites are solid (and they often are), there is no such thing as an unbiased and disinterested source. This is especially true of political and social organizations whose sole purpose is to promote anendas.

    The Internet addresses ending in “.edu” are rather self-explanatory—they belong to universities and other educational institutions. On these sites, we can expect academic articles and other writings, as well as, often, papers and other works created by students. These websites are also useful resources if you are looking for information on a specific college or university. Be aware, though, that typically any college faculty member or student can obtain web space from their institution and publish materials of their own choosing on that space. Thus, some of the texts that appear on “.edu” sites may be personal rather than academic.

    In recent years, some political research organizations have begun to use web addresses with the “edu” tag. One of these organizations is The Brookings Institution, whose address is http://www.brookings.edu.

    Government websites which end in “.gov” can be useful sources of information on the latest legislation and other regulatory documents. The website with a “dot net” extension can belong to commercial organizations or online forums.

    Website Content

    Now that we have established principles for evaluating the authors and publishers of web materials, let us look at the content of the writing. As I have stated above, like all writing, web writing is argumentative, therefore it is important to recognize that authors of web texts work to promote their agendas or highlight the events, organizations, and opinions that they consider right, important, and worthy of public attention. Different writers work from different assumption and try to reach different audiences. Websites of political organizations are prime examples of that.

    Website Design and Style

    The style and layout of any text is a part of that text’s message, and online research sources are no exception. Well-designed and written websites add to the ethos (credibility) of their authors while badly designed and poorly written ones detract from it. Sometimes, however, a website with a good-looking design can turn out to be an unreliable or unsuitable research source.

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