The Importance of Web Site Evaluation
The internet provides unfettered access to an amazing volume of information in a way that other mediums (newspapers, journals, magazines, television) can't even come close to. Just as we have learned to critically evaluate the information that comes from those "traditional" outlets, we must also learn to evaluate what we find when surfing the Web. In fact, it becomes even more important to turn a critical eye on the Web because of the ease with which information can be posted on a web site, wiki, or blog.
The following can be used as a general guideline for evaluating information found on the web. When in doubt, speak to your professor or ask a reference librarian for assistance. Additional tips for determining source reliability are available at the SUNY Jefferson Library and Tutoring Center's Guide for determining Fake News.
Ownership & Authorship
- Who is the "publisher" (organization, company, person) of the web site?
- Is the publisher the official site for an association?
- Is the publisher a recognized authority in the field?
- Is there an address, phone number, or other contact information provided for the publisher?
- Will it be possible to find background information about this publisher?
- Is this publisher an appropriate resource for the information being presented?
- Who is the author?
- Is a personal author identified for the information, articles, or documents presented at the web site?
- Do you know that this author is respected in his/her field? Is it clear what his/her credentials are?
- Is there biographical information provided? Will it be possible to find background information about this author?
- Is there a way to contact the author?
Tip: A reference librarian may be able to recommend resources which will help you learn more about the publisher and author!
Point of View, Bias, or Objectivity
- First, use the "domain" of the URL to determine what type of site you are looking at:
- .com = commercial site
- .gov = U.S. government site
- .org = non-profit organization site (usually, but not always)
- .mil = U.S. military sites and agencies
- .net = networks/Internet Service Providers
- ~ = usually indicates a personal home page
- Is the publisher of the site likely to have any particular agenda (e.g. political, philosophical, commercial)?
- Does the author appear to have a particular bias?
Tip: When in doubt, search for domain name ownership information at WHOIS.
Content & Scope
- What is the purpose of the web site? Why is this information being provided? Is it:
- scholarly research?
- general educational or factual information?
- an editorial or persuasive argument?
- a sales pitch?
- an advertisement?
- a hoax?
- Who is the intended audience?
- Does the information presented appear to be complete and comprehensive?
- Are there links provided to other sources of information on this same topic?
- If this is a research document is there an explanation of the research method(s) used?
- Is there a bibliography?
- When statistics and other types of factual data are presented are they cited so that they may be verified?
- Is the document generally well-written? Free of spelling mistakes? Free of typographical errors?
- Is currency important to the type of information being presented? (For some types of information currency may not be important).
- Are any of the following dates provided?
- creation date
- post date
- revision date
- In cases where there is statistical data or factual data is it indicated when that data was gathered?
- Does the information seem to be out-of-date and therefore irrelevant and/or unreliable?
- Do the links provided on the site work (i.e. do they get you where you need to go)?
Compare, Contrast, Confirm
- How does the information presented on the web site compare to information you have gathered elsewhere - including other web sites, books, journal articles, interviews, etc.?
- Do the theories or information presented agree or disagree with established scholarship or widely held points of view?
- Can data and pieces of factual information be confirmed using other sources?