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url endingWhat’s in an ending? Well, when it comes to a website, the three little letters at the end of its address tell the reader a lot. I am talking about the .com, .org, .edu and .gov that come at the end of a website’s location. As a student, which sites should you use and how do you decide?

A dot com is a commercial site. Sometimes you might see .biz for business or .net for network providers. If you are a business student, you might find some very useful information on company websites such as their annual reports, history and goals, or their products. However, if you are a nursing student, you would want to carefully evaluate these sites as their purpose may be to convince you to take their drug or have the latest and greatest cosmetic surgery.

A dot org is a non-profit organization. However, like a .com, anyone can be a .org. In other words, there is no screening process. There are some very reputable .orgs such as the American Cancer Society and the famous Mayo Clinic. Would I trust information I found on these sites? Yes, absolutely, but remember that most .orgs have a point of view and they are trying to convince you of it. For example, if you are a gun supporter, you might like the National Rifle Association (nra.org), but if you believe in gun control, you might prefer Pat Brady’s campaign to prevent gun violence (bradycampaign.org).

A dot edu refers to an educational institution of higher learning such as a college or university and yes, they must go through a screening process. These are often excellent sites to find information for college research papers. However, watch the web address for a tilde (~) before a person’s name. This indicates that the site is authored by that one person. This might be good if the person is a scholar at Harvard University, but it could also indicate that it is an undergraduate student posting their class assignment.

Finally, the dot gov indicates a government website. You can always be assured that if the web address ends in .gov, it is a legitimate department of the government. Therefore, the sites provide reputable information that often cannot be found anywhere else. For example, the U.S. Census Bureau (census.gov) can provide you with the best statistics as they have the money and power to make everyone comply. However, does the government also have a point of view? Think back to the BP Gulf oil spill in April 2010. Three months later, the government told the American people that it was safe to eat fish from the gulf. Most of us would not knowingly want to do this, but the government felt the risk was outweighed by the economic suffering of the fishermen in the area.

So what is a student to do? They should realize that almost all information has a bias, but that the .edu and .gov sites are probably the least opinionated. AND when in doubt, check with your instructor or friendly, helpful Kirkwood librarian.