||The following criteria are adapted from Web Wisdom: How to Evaluate and Create Information Quality on the Web.* This book provides general guidelines for evaluating web sites; the guidelines have here been adapted and expanded to address the specific concerns of evaluating sites containing information on religions. For each criterion, a checklist of questions is given so that the reader can use this page not only to understand how the author has evaluated the links on this web-site, but can also refer to these criteria to initiate their own search for religions on the web. (As this site is far from being a comprehensive source of information on all the world's religions, these criteria are designed to be used for the evaluation of information on religions and can be applied independently of this site.) Also included for each criterion is a discussion of the relevant issues surrounding that criterion in light of religion.
In developing these criteria, it is clear that for each religion included on this site, unique evaluation problems arise. For instance, for issues of currency in Catholicism, doctrine should be distinguished from contemporary interpretation and exposition of doctrinal truths. Yet when studying a religion such as Wicca, no set canon exists and issues of currency are focused more on the stability of information authored on the Web. Where possible, the author has annotated the links to cue the readers to these issues. The structure of these criteria and the specific checklist questions are taken directly from Web Wisdom,and for a more in depth and comprehensive understanding of how to evaluate the many types of web sites that exist, the reader should refer to this book in its entirety.
*Alexander, J. E. & M. A. Tate, (1999). Web Wisdom: How to Evaluate and Create Information Quality on the Web. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
||"The extent to which material is the creation of a person or organization that is recognized as having definitive knowledge of a given subject area" (128).
||1.1 Authority at SITE LEVEL
||1.2 Authority at PAGE LEVEL
||"The extent to which information is reliable and free from errors" (130).
||"The extent to which material expresses facts or information without distortion by personal feelings or other biases." (130)
||"The extent to which material can be identified as up to date" (131).
|5. COVERAGE, INTENDED AUDIENCE
||"[Coverage is] the range of topics included in a work and the depth to which those topics are addressedÉ.[Intended audience] is the group of people for whom the material was created" (132).
1. AUTHORITY "The extent to which material is the creation of a person or organization that is recognized as having definitive knowledge of a given subject area" (128).
This criterion is tricky in the field of religion, since what constitutes definitive knowledge varies from religion to religion, and even scholars disagree on how to evaluate information based on religious authority. It must be made clear that this site is not a comparative analysis of all religions, but is a resource to be used for obtaining information about the aspects of individual religions; hence cross-religious critiques are not included. The focus of this site is to provide information from 'insider sources' and/or objective sources; evaluating the authority of these sources will be determined according to the tradition's own standards, when possible to determine. Because most of the information available on this site is informative and intended for an academic audience, authority will in part be determined according to academic standards of scholarship. Much of determining authority is technical, and the following checklist is self-explanatory in how it relates to evaluating sites of religions. The following are checklists from Web Wisdom (pp. 55, 80) for evaluating the authority of a site and the authority of a page:
1.1 Authority at SITE LEVEL
- Is it clear what organization, company, or person is responsible for the contents of the site? This can be indicated by the use of a logo.
- If the site is a subsite of a larger organization, does the site provide the logo or name of the larger organization?
- Is there a way to contact the organization, company, or person responsible for the contents of the site? These contact points can be used to verify te legitimacy of the site. Although a phone number, mailing address, and e-mail address are a possible contact points, a mailing address and phone number provide a more reliable way of verifying legitimacy.
- Is there a listing of the names and qualifications of any individuals who are responsible for overseeing the organization (Such as a Board of Directors)?
- Is there and indication of whether the organization has a presence beyond the Web? For example, does it produce printed materials?
- Is there a listing of printed materials produced by the organization and information about how they can be obtained?
- Is there a listing of significant employees and their qualifications?
1.2 Authority at PAGE LEVEL
2. ACCURACY "The extent to which information is reliable and free from errors" (130).
This criterion may seem basic or intuitive, yet it is vital when evaluating information that may be used for academic purposes.
The following checklist is from Web Wisdom (pp.56, 81), in regard to issues of accuracy:
- Is the information free of grammatical, spelling, and typographical errors? (In web authoring, errors indicate that the material was not carefully edited and may therefore not be reliable.)
- Are sources for factual information provided, so the facts can be verified in the original source?
- If there are any graphs, charts, or tables, are they clearly labeled and easy to read?
- If the work is original research by the author, is this clearly indicated? (This information is vital when citing Web sources!)
- Is there an indication the information has been reviewed for accuracy by an editor or through a peer review process?
3. OBJECTIVITY "The extent to which material expresses facts or information without distortion by personal feelings or other biases." (130)
Objectivity is perhaps the most convoluted criterion to consider in evaluating sites on religion. For religious studies as in every other academic field, objectivity is the most difficult (and according to some, impossible) goal to achieve. Yet it remains as a goal and is important to include as an aspect of evaluating web sites, since exploration into objectivity can reveal important evidence of bias in scholarship and can make that bias transparent.
The following checklist is from Web Wisdom (p.56) and addresses the issue of objectivity on the Web:
- Is the point of view of the individual or organization responsible for providing the information evident?
- (If there is an individual author of the material on that page-)
Is the point of view of the author evident?
- Is it clear what relationship exists between the author and the person, company, or organization responsible for the site?
- Is the page free of advertising?
- (For pages that include advertising-)
Is it clear what relationship exists between the business, organization, or person responsible for the contents of the page and any advertisers represented on the page?
- If there is both advertising and information on the page, is there a clear differentiation between the two?
- Is there an explanation of the site's policy relating to advertising and sponsorship?
- (For pages that have a nonprofit or corporate sponsor-)
- Are the names of any nonprofit or corporate sponsors clearly listed?
- Are links included to the sites of any nonprofit or corporate sponsors so that a user may find out more information about them?
- Is additional information provided about the nature of the sponsorship, such as what type it is (nonrestrictive, educational, etc.)?
4. CURRENCY "The extent to which material can be identified as up to date" (131).
The information and links found on this site have been created from January to April of 2001. For canonical information, the currency of information is not necessarily relevant. Nevertheless, for interpretations of canonical material, information on religious organizations and other more 'time sensitive' aspects of religions such as contemporary scholarship, it is important to consider the dates sites are created and also whether the information continues to be relevant. Because this site is meant to cover many religions which are stable over time and have large memberships, currency is marginally relevant in evaluating the included links.
The following is the checklist provided in Web Wisdom (pp. 56-7, 81) regarding issues of currency:
- Is the date the material was first created in any format included on the page? (This is especially relevant when considering NRMs and contemporary issues of religions.)
- Is the date the material was first placed on the server included on the page? (One should be aware of this, especially for translations in progress.)
- If the contents of the page have been revised, is the date (and time, if appropriate) the material was last revised included on the page?
- To avoid confusion, are all dates in an internationally recognized format? Examples of dates in an international format (dd mm yy) are 5 June 1997 and 21 January 1999. (When the date is provided, the author has included the date of creation/revision in international format in the annotation of the link.)
- If the page includes time-sensitive information, is the frequency of updates described? (While frequently updated information is unlikely given the scholarly focus of this page, revisions of material should be clar in the pages, especially if this information is to be cited.)
- If the page includes statistical data, is the date the statistics were collected clearly indicated? (Any statistics found in this site will meet this criterion.)
- If the same information is also published in a print source, such as online dictionary with a print counterpart, is it clear which print edition the information is taken from? (Are the title, author, publisher, and date of the print publication listed?) (Of all the currency criteria, this is perhaps the most relevant to the study of religions. For example, for Bible sources, it is vital to know which edition is being used. For canonical material and other published works, it is especially important that the reader has access to information on the 'hard copy' of the source, for academic purposes and follow-up research. Every attempt has been made at this site to ensure that this information is included in the links chosen.)
5. COVERAGE, INTENDED AUDIENCE "[Coverage is] the range of topics included in a work and the depth to which those topics are addressedÉ.[Intended audience] is the group of people for whom the material was created" (132).
This site is for anyone seeking introductory information on specific religions. It is particularly useful as a starting point for academic students of religious studies. To the extent possible, the links included in this portal have been chosen in accord with this scholarly intent and in some way contribute to accurate information on specific religions. This site has not been created as a resource for the individual practitioner, per se. (Although certainly there is some overlap here.)
Given the informational content of the links on this site, it is important to be aware of any other formats in which the information is available. Especially when exploring religious canons and other doctrinal aspects of religion, it is important to determine if the information being provided is directly from a text source, and to determine if it has been revised or interpreted or translated in any way.
The following is a checklist from Web Wisdom (pp. 57, 81) for evaluating these issues of audience and publication, along with additional questions pertinent to the topic of religion:
- Is it clear what materials are included at the site? (e.g., is the material doctrinal, is it an interpretation of doctrine, is it a translation, personal exposition, etc.)
- If the page is still under construction, is the expected date of completion indicated? (Oftentimes translated materials will be under construction, especially canonical works.)
- Is the intended audience for the material clear? (Is the page intended for converting new members, for disemminating scholarly information, for members of the religion?)
- If material is presented for several different audiences, is the intended audience for each type of material clear?
- Is there a print equivalent to the web page? If so, is it clear if the entire work is available on the Web? (This is especially important when exploring doctrine, as there may be a particular translation used, and the information may only be part of the entire work in print.)
- If there is a print equivalent to the Web page, is it clear if the Web version includes additional information not contained in the print version? (This is important to consider for sites which may expound/interpret doctrine as it relates to contemporary issues. In this case it is not necessarily clear when the information provided is from original doctrine or from interpretation of that doctrine.)
- If the material is from a work that is out of copyright...is it clear whether and to what extent the material has been updated? (While canonical works may be more 'time resistant,' this is an important issue to consider when exploring New Religious Movements and religious organizations, which are often subject to change.)