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Evaluating Web Sources

Not all sources on the Web are equally valuable or reliable. Individual sites are not screened or standardized in any way to determine if the information they provide is accurate or useful. Critically evaluating the information you find is central to successful academic research. Determining the credibility of information found on the Web is not always easy - think of the following criteria during evaluation.

Accuracy: The reliability of the information.
Authority: The source of the information.
Currency: The timeliness of the information.
Purpose: The possible bias present in the information.
Relevance: The depth and importance of the information.

ACCURACY: There are no regulations, standards, or systems in place to ensure that information on the web is correct. Judging the accuracy of information is important when utilizing internet resources.
  • Is the information correct?
  • Can it be verified from other sources?
  • Is the information cited?
  • Are there spelling, grammatical, or typographical errors?
  • Has the information been refereed?
AUTHORITY: Anyone has the ability to publish information on the internet. This does not mean they are qualified experts in the field. The following questions will help decide if the website is an authoritative source:
  • Who is the author of the page?
  • What are their credentials?
  • What institution are they affiliated with?
  • Is that producing institution reputable?
  • Is there an email address or other contact information?
  • What does the domain name tell you about the source?
    • .ca - Canadian-based website
    • .gov - American government
    • .edu - American educational institution
    • .org - Organizations or special interest groups, usually non-profit
    • .com, .net, .biz - companies, pretty much everything else
CURRENCY: Material found on the web can quickly become out-dated. Websites fall out of use, are no longer maintained, or disappear altogether. The following criteria will help you judge the currency of a website:
  • Is there a date of publication or last update?
  • When was the page created?
  • Do the links work?
  • Is the page maintained on a regular basis?
  • Is the information considered current for your topic/research?
PURPOSE: It should be clear why the information on the website is being made available. Knowing and understanding the purpose of information is key to conducting high-quality research.
  • Is this information meant to teach? Inform? Persuade? Entertain?
  • Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
  • Is the information fact? Opinion? Propaganda?
  • What other websites are linked to this one?
  • Is there advertising on the site? What is being advertised?
  • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
  • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional, or personal biases?
RELEVANCE: There is so much information on the web, it is easy to get sidetracked or bogged down. Keeping focused and on-topic makes deciding on the relevance of sources an easier task.
  • Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
  • Who is the intended audience and is the information at an appropriate level (not too basic or advanced) for your needs?
  • Does the site claim to be comprehensive and how does it meet those claims?
  • Have you looked at a variety of sources before determining this is one you will use?
  • Why is this site preferable to other resource types or formats?

By asking yourself these questions when evaluating a website, you can determine if it is useful, current and correct.

For more help evaluating internet sources try the Internet Detective, "an interactive tutorial on evaluating the quality of Internet resources".

Last Updated: 30 March 2011