Fact or Opinion Study Guide (page 3)

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Updated on Sep 19, 2011

Tales of a Web Page Address (URL)

  • Businesses or others selling or promoting products or services, as well as news organizations, typically end in .com (the "com" means commercial).
  • Informational websites, like those of a government, usually end in .gov, .mil, .us, or another country code, such as .au for Australia and .uk for the United Kingdom.
  • Educational groups, from elementary schools to design schools to major universities, end in .edu.
  • Non-profit organizations and groups that try to influence public opinion, such as the Democratic and Republican parties, end in .org.
  • The most potentially unreliable information sources are personal web pages. Most are easy to identify—a tilde (~) in the address is a giveaway. But be careful, some URLs with .edu endings, usually indicating educational sites, also have a tilde and include a person's name. That's because some educational institutions offer free or low-cost web pages to their students, employees, and/or alumni. So be sure to look at the whole URL, not just part of it.

Check Dates

Legitimate websites typically include the date the site was written, when it was launched, and the last time it was updated. Without these dates, you cannot with any certainty use the information found on the site, especially if it is of a factual or statistical nature. If you have dates, ask yourself:

  • Is the information current enough for my needs?
  • If I need time-sensitive information, are the facts I found stale or do they represent the latest findings?
  • If I don't need time-sensitive information, was this information placed on the Internet near the time it occurred?
  • Was the page updated a relatively short time ago or could the author have abandoned it?

Use Links to Evaluate a Site

Most websites use links to help you move from their site to other web pages. These links may be used to document sources (think of them as the Internet equivalent of footnotes) or simply to take you to more information about the topic which may be of interest.

If there are links to other pages as sources, ask yourself the following:

  • Do the links work?
  • Are they to reliable sources or only to other locations on the same website?
  • If they take you to more information on the subject, are they well chosen and well organized?
  • Do the links represent other viewpoints?
  • Do they indicate a bias?
  • Are there links to directories? Are they discriminating or do they accept any and all sites?

If other pages link themselves to the page you are considering as a source, ask yourself:

  • Who links to the page? (read all points of view if more than one may be found)
  • How many links are there? (higher numbers may generally be a good sign)
  • What kinds of sites link to it? (do they all represent the same point of view, giving the same information)

Verify Reproduced Information

If a website includes quotes, statistics, or other information purported to be from another source, check it for accuracy. Never assume that simply because the words or numbers are printed, they are correct. Quotes that have been retyped may contain errors, have been deliberately altered, or be complete fakes. The best way to check is to find the information somewhere else, preferably at its source.

For example, Chuck reads a website that claims Earth's human population is decreasing. It cites an expert who is quoted in Scientific American magazine. Chuck should check his public library, which probably has back issues or a subscription to the magazine's online archives that he can search for free.

Keep in mind that material reproduced from another publication, if it is legitimate, will probably include both a link to the original source (if it's online), and copyright information and permission to reproduce or reprint. If there is a link, be certain it is from the original source.

In Short

Thinking critically means being armed with accurate information. It's vital to evaluate information to see if it's subjective or objective, fact or opinion, accurate or false, and/or biased. You have to look at the source of the information, or the author(s). Can you trust the source and the credentials of the author(s)? Keep a skeptical eye out for opinion posing as fact, inferior research and documentation, and bias from every source.

When using the Internet, which can be a hazardous place to find information, you have to evaluate any Web page you come across in your research. It's important to find the author and dates for each website, as well as judge the accuracy of its content, and use its links to evaluate even further what you read. Your critical-thinking skills are enhanced when you learn to evaluate the information you receive. Think for yourself! Never assume that something is true without checking it out, and don't take for granted that any source's viewpoint is unbiased.


Never accept statements at face value. Every statement should be carefully evaluated to find the truth. Remember, truthfulness and reasoning aren't the same thing.

Skill Building Until Next Time

  • Read a magazine article and note its author. Does the magazine itself tell you anything about his or her credentials? Look up the author on the Internet to see if you can find what expertise, if any, he or she has in the subject.
  • The next time you hear a fact on a TV news story, try to substantiate it. Remember the rule of threes: Find it in three more sources before accepting it as fact.

Exercises for this concept can be found at Fact or Opinion Practice Exercises.

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