Evaluating Resources on the Web

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Evaluating Resources on the Web

With so much information available on the Web, it's hard to weed out the creditable information from the not so creditable information. Books and journals get reviewed by publishers prior to release, but anyone can publish online and there are no guarantees of the quality of the work. The key to successful Internet searching is knowing how to evaluate a website for accuracy and reliability. The following questions will help you think critically about selecting online documents for your research.

Authority

Examine the extension in the URL. The extension will tell you what kind of organization has published or sponsored the web site:

  • .edu = educational site
    Like a University website. Read the webpage carefully to identify the reader.
  • .gov = a government site
    Usually contains government information. Verify what department's website you're at.
  • .mil = military web site
    Specifically for military websites.
  • .org = non-profit organization
    Non-profit organizations can be an excellent source of information, but always identify who the author is and what kind of bias they may have.
  • .com = commercial site
    Tends to be the least credible websites as they are owned by commercial entities. Use with caution.

Questions of Authority

See if you can answer these questions about the website:

  1. Is the author easily identified in the article?
  2. Does the author list his/her credentials?
  3. Is the author affiliated with an academic institution or a publisher or a professional society?
  4. What organization is responsible for publishing/sponsoring the site?
  5. Is the organization "legit"?
  6. Is there an "About this organization" link on the home page?
  7. Is there an address, telephone number, or e-mail address for the author?
  8. Is the author qualified to give accurate information on the topic?

Accuracy or Verifiability

Wikipedia can be an excellent source of information, but you need to prove that the information used in Wikipedia is accurate. Here are a few questions to ask yourself when determining the accuracy of information on Wikipedia or other web sources:

  1. Are there references to source materials and can they be verified?
  2. What is the article's relevant value compared to the range of resources available? Is this the best resource for you or can you get this information somewhere better?
  3. Are there typos in the document?
  4. Is the website free of errors and broken links?
  5. Does it read coherently?

Scope

Scope is who is the website's audience and what is it about. Sometimes this information is buried in a website, but see if you can locate an About Us or About section. This information will help you answer these important questions:

  1. Is the site intended for a particular audience?
  2. Does the web page or sponsoring site have a bias? Is it intended to inform, persuade, advertise, or present a particular viewpoint?
  3. Is the website intended to sell a product?
  4. Is the website authored by an individual with an "ax to grind"?

Currency

Sometimes the currency of information is important as in the case of current events or statistical data. The date of publication in a printed document is an indicator of currency, but it is not always easy to judge the currency of a web document. Here are a few questions that will help you find the date of the information if no clear date is given.

  1. When was the site last updated?
  2. When was it established?
  3. Does the page provide a link to archived material?

Coverage

Look at the depth and quality of information provided on the website. Here are a few questions that will help you determine the amount of coverage the website provides.

  1. Is the site intended for professionals, the general public, students?
  2. Does the level of writing and depth of information suit your needs?
  3. Do the hyperlinks direct you to the intended sites and are those sites up-to-date and reliable?
  4. Is the site genuinely valuable for your purpose?