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College Resource Center : Health Careers : Readings for Successful School Performance : The WWW as a Healthcare Resource

The WWW as a Healthcare Resource

The Internet contains an overwhelming number of websites that provide information about healthcare issues. You need to know how to evaluate Web sites for accurate and safe information.

Finding Information on the Web

To find information on the World Wide Web, open a browser and type the complete web address, or URL (universal resource locator), for the site you wish to visit. Most URLs are formed by three parts separated by a colon (:), slashes (/), and dots (.) Here is an example URL:

http://www.healthcare.com/
stands for World Wide Web the domain name identifies the person, organization, server, or topic domain suffix identifies the type of organization.

Table A lists common domain suffixes and their meanings.

Table A

Key to Internet Domain Suffixes
.comcommercial entity
.edueducational institution
.firmbusiness entity
.govgovernment agency or department
.infoorganizations that provide members with information
.milmilitary organization
.netnetwork resource (administrative site for service providers)
.storeonline sales
.nompersonal name
.webWorld Wide Web organizations
.recrecreation/entertainment

Search Engines

If you do not know the specific address of the company or organization, you can use one of several online search engines to find this information based on key words. Some of the most common search engines and their addresses are listed in Table B.

Table B

Common Search Engines
Name of Search EngineURL
AltaVistahttp://www.altavista.digital.com
Excitehttp://www.excite.com
Infoseekhttp://www.infoseek.com
Googlehttp://www.google.com
Lycoshttp://www.lycos.com
MetaCrawlerhttp://www.metacrawler.com
Yahoo!http://www.yahoo.com

Key Words and Boolean Logic

Internet search techniques use a selection and sort process that is based on Boolean logic. Boolean logic refers to the logical relationship among search terms. To conduct a focused search on the Internet, you use specific Boolean operators, or key words, such as and, or, not, and near. Depending on what operator you use, you can expand or limit your search. For example, an Internet searching using the key word "virus" would locate websites dealing with computer, human, and animal viruses. A user interested in computer viruses would limit the search by using one of the Boolean operators. Table C presents a summary of some of the most important Boolean operators and how they work to modify an Internet search.

Table C

Some Boolean Operators Used in Search Strings
Operator Sample String Effect
AND or + computers AND viruses finds sites dealing with computer viruses but not with computers in general or viruses in general
". . ." "computer viruses" finds sites containing the entire phrase in quotation marks
NOT or - "computer virus" NOT hoax limits search to sites that exclude the keyword after NOT (computer viruses are not hoaxes)
OR "WDEF virus" OR "Michaelangelo virus" finds reference to either the WDEF or the Michaelangelo virus

Evaluating Web Sites

To conduct research efficiently on the Internet, you need to understand how to evaluate Web sites. As you scrutinize a particular Web site, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What clues does the Web site's domain name provide about who is sponsoring the site? Sites that end with .edu (educational institutions) and .gov (government institutions) are generally reliable. Sites that end with .com, however, are commercial sites that, like any commercial institution, are often for-profit enterprises or run by special interest groups that may slant or "spin" information to their advantage.
  • Who is the author or developer of the site? Examine any names provided on the site. Investigate the author's credentials, if given. Do they make him a reliable source? Does the author give you a way to contact her?
  • What is the quality of the information? As you examine the site, ask yourself if the information appears accurate, up-to-date, comprehensive, and reliable. Check for a date indicating when the site was last maintained or updated, since many sites on the net are already out of date. Check to see if a bibliography is provided.
  • Is the information given without bias? An author with a personal stake in what others think about a subject may withhold or distort information. Read closely and critically to discover whether the author presents the information objectively or is trying to influence how you think. Using loaded, or non-objective, language and ignoring obvious counter-arguments are signs of author bias.
  • Examine and follow any hyperlinks embedded in the text. More often than not, a site that itself provides little clue to the bias or slant of its information will have hyperlinks that give strong clues to that bias. What other sources or products does the author promote?

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