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Why would you want to know who authored a web page?

Web pages do not undergo the same rigorous editorial process used to create published books, magazines and newspapers. In traditional publishing, peer review, and fact checking are part of the process. Background checks are run to assure that authors know what they are writing about. By contrast, web publishing is less formal, and by implication the information published on the web is less likely to be thoroughly verified. It is up to the reader to check a web page author's credentials. Investigating the author will help you to trust the credibility of the information found on a web page.

proof reading

Where will you find an author's name?

Sometimes the author's name is prominently displayed at the top or bottom of the web page. Most of the time you'll have to dig for this information. Author information is is often found on an "About this Site" page. Once you have the author's name, use it to search for additional writing and biographical information on the site and elsewhere. You can also use a search engine to research the author's background. Sometimes there will be no author's name, which makes it difficult to judge the credibility of the information you seek.

How can you learn more about an author's expertise on a particular subject?

Enter the author's name in a search engine. Pair subject keywords with the author's name to search subject specific databases on the invisible web. This is when you should use lots of synonyms, hypernyms, and hyponyms to find out how much the author knows about the subject. Does the author just know enough to use the latest popular terms, or does s/he really understand the entire field of study?

What Questions are good to evaluate an author?

Let these questions guide your evaluation of a Webpage author:

  • Who is the author of the Webpage?
  • How much experience does the author have in this area?
  • What is the author's occupation?
  • What is the author's educational background?
  • What is the author's reputation among others in the field?
Example Who is the author of the following web page? What can you find out about the author using basic investigation techniques?

Poetry Prompts & Assignments for Teachers

The author is listed as Taylor Mali. Querying just the author's name leads to the website (which is also found by truncating the URL). The site declares that Mali is a poet, educator and teacher advocate. Wikipedia adds that he is a slam poet, humorist, teacher and voiceover artist. According to a YouTube page he also curates the Page Meets Stage series. So far we have a growing list of occupations, but no real credentials. At the bottom of the first page of Google results is a list of suggested queries, including Taylor Mali Biography. In browsing terms, that is a hot lead. The main source of information is Taylor's own Webpage, which shouldn't be taken at face value without further checking. Wikipedia states he has a B.A. in English from Bowdoin College (1987) and an M.A. in English/Creative Writing from Kansas State University (1993). Any of these could be fact checked to see if the information can be verified. What you find can make the difference between treating the lesson named above as legitimate information or a humorous piece.

Detective Work: Searching within a Site

Some websites provide a site-search engine. Additionally, some search engines have a feature (the site: operator) that lets you to search only within that site. Either way, you can use keywords like the author's name to find information about what an individual author has contributed to a web site.

Detective Work: Truncating the URL

You can learn more about the site you are visiting by truncating the URL. Truncating the URL is a way to navigate through a website by backtracking through the web address. Search engines will sometimes drop you deep within the navigational structure of a website. If you want to find out more about the host site, you can systematically delete elements of the web address (URL). With each 'truncation' you arrive at a new page. By truncating the URL, you may find other resources created by the author you are investigating. This is true in the case of the poetry lesson example used above.

MM Companion

Content authored by Laura Kaisler 2003 | modified 2019 by Carl Heine

Improve your investigative skills with this Author Tutorial: