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5.1 Websites

What is a Domain Name?

The URL, or Uniform Resource Locator, is the address for a website that most often starts with http: or https:.  Each URL ends with a three-letter code that is preceded by a "dot."  This is the domain name for the website.

It is important to pay attention to a website's domain because it indicates the type of organization sponsoring it.  This will help you to understand the purpose of the site and whether it contains information appropriate for your research. 

Common domain names include

.gov   Governmental entities

  • Used by U.S. federal, state, and local government agencies.  These websites are typically good sources of information for scientific research, national and local statistics, demographic data, etc. 
  • Examples: 

.org    Non-Profit organizations

  • Intended for use by non-commercial organizations. This domain category is a catchall that includes cultural, political, religious, civic, health, and arts organizations.  .Org sites can be good places for information but careful evaluation is required because a .org domain can be registered by any person or organization. 
  • Examples: 

.com   Commercial entities

  • Intended for businesses.  Any person or business entity can register a .com domain.  Be aware of potential bias in favor of any products or services offered by the business.  Also, keep in mind that most news organizations and publications are owned by corporations which means they will have .com domains.
  • Examples:

.edu   Educational institutions

  • Used by colleges and universities.  This domain is restricted to these institutions but server space is often given to eligible individuals like faculty and staff. Therefore, some edu  web pages may present personal views or opinions not endorsed by the institution.  
  • Examples: 

.net    Miscellaneous

  • This domain often functions as an alternate to .com, so treat these websites in the same manner as you sites.   Anyone can register a .net domain. 
  • Examples: 

Evaluating websites by their domain names is like judging a book by its cover. The domain name is just one criteria among many others that you should use to evaluate websites for use as potential sources for your research.

The next section will look at ways to evaluate the credibility of content found on websites.