Evaluating Online Sources
The Internet is an unregulated community with no oversight for content. Since anyone can create a website, always evaluate information found online before using it.
Evaluating internet sites effectively requires you to do two things at once:
- Use your eyes to quickly find what you need to know about the web page.
- Use your mind to think critically, even suspiciously, by asking a series of questions that will help you decide if the information you have found should be trusted.
Below are some suggested questions and interpretations to help you evaluate the websites you encounter.
- Are the sources for factual information clearly listed so that the information can be verified through an independent source?
- Is it clear who has the ultimate responsibility for the accuracy of the information?
- Has the information been reviewed or refereed?
- Is the website free of grammatical, spelling, or typographical errors?
There is a difference between the author and the webmaster, be sure the author of the information is identified and contact information is provided.
- Who created this information and why?
- What knowledge or skills do they have in the area?
- Is he or she stating fact or opinion?
- If the author is an institution, have you heard of it before? Can you find out more information about it?
Check the domain to verify the document's origin. As a general rule, the following domains are published by authoritative sources: .edu, .gov, and .org.
- Is the information covered fact, opinion, or propaganda?
- Is the author's point-of-view objective and impartial?
- Is the language free of emotion-rousing words and bias?
- Is the author affiliated with an identifiable organization?
- Could the information be meant as humorous, a parody, or satire?
Be wary of websites that look informational despite their intentions to advertise ideas, opinions, and products.
- When was this information originally published?
- When was it last updated?
- Do the links provided lead to other websites that are current and updated regularly?
- Is the information on the page outdated?
The level of maintenance on a page can be a good indicator of its currency. Broken links and infrequent updates can be signs of out-of-date information that should not be relied upon.
- Are the links (if any) evaluated and do they complement the documents' themes?
- Is the information presented attributed to an originating source and is that source cited correctly?
- If the page requires special software to view, how much are you missing if you don't have the software?
- Is the information free or is there a fee associated with access?
Accessibility is an important consideration when using and citing online sources. It is best to use resources that are likely to still be available for reference in the future.
Putting It All Together
The site you have found may be of value if...
...it lists the author and institution that published the page and provides a way of contacting him/her, and...
...it lists the author's credentials and its domain is preferred (.edu, .gov, or .org), and...
...it provides accurate information with limited advertising and it avoids presenting biased information, and...
...it is current and updated regularly (as stated on the page) and the links (if any) are also up-to-date, and...
...you can view the information properly and are not limited by fees, browser technology, or software requirements.
More About Evaluating Websites
Cornell University Library
Evaluating Web Sites: Criteria and Tools
Duke University Libraries
Evaluating Web Pages
UC Berkeley Library
Evaluating Web Pages