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Web Analysis - How to unpack a website: Home

Why do I need to unpack a website?

Understanding what a website is about is key to using its information or services as a critically analytic citizen/student/consumer. 

In academic writing, it's important to understand the background of sources you want to incorporate into your argument. There are potentially many valid online sources that will expand your understanding of your topic and help you explain to your readers your position and viewpoint. 

Accepting web sources at face value is never a good idea. Students often incorporate dubious stats and information because they did not understand who had published it and for what purpose.

Your job: to incorporate sources with context. Why did you include this source?

A bit of investigation can help you understand:

  1. what you're really looking at on a website
  2. how the information on the website relates to the larger landscape of your topic
  3. how you might want to incorporate the information into your essay or project

Standard Academic Assessment Rules Apply!

Websites are no different from other academic sources when it comes to scrutiny.

Always evaluate a source you're interested in using for these criteria:

  • Who is the audience?
  • Who wrote it?
  • Does it include specific citations?
  • What is the purpose of this source?
  • Does it add something to my understanding of the topic? 

Starting Points

The first step in unpacking a website is determining what kind of website you're looking at. 

Common types of sites include:

  • news 
  • company or corporate 
  • advocacy/policy
  • industry/trade/professional
  • education
  • government
  • non-government organization (NGO)/charity
  • personal interest/hobby/community
  • shopping
  • entertainment/arts

Some of these categories are overlapping. For example, an entertainment site might be owned by a company or corporation. A special interest group may have started a charity or a non-government organization.

Ultimately, what is the purpose of the site's owner and the site itself? 

Not Everything on the Web is a Website

The internet is a place jam-packed with digital stuff. Not everything on the web is a "website". 

We usually use "website" to mean a group of pages linked by design and navigation, owned and created by one entity.

Within websites, various documents might be included.

  • news stories
  • advertisements
  • knowledge base
  • blog
  • media
  • about (self-description), information about the entity
  • research or published works
  • store/sales

When you do a search, you might be accessing a document within a larger site. It's important to recognize:

  • What is the document I'm looking at?
  • Who posted it online? Is it within a larger website?
  • How does it fit within the larger website?

You will need to know this information to be able to properly cite any web source.