Critical evaluation of sources is an essential part of the research process. Your credibility is dependent upon the quality of your sources. Sources should be authoritative, reliable, relevant and appropriate.
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 on our Evaluating News page and Evaluating Sources page.
- 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?
- Is the publisher of the site likely to have any particular agenda (e.g. political, ideological, commercial)?
- Does the author appear to have a particular bias?
- does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
- is the information at an appropriate level for your needs (not too elementary or advanced)?
- would you be comfortable citing this source in your research paper?
- Where does the information come from?
- Is the information supported by facts or evidence? Is it refereed or peer-reviewed?
- If this is a research document, is there an explanation of the research method(s) used?
- Are sources cited? 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 or topics, 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- Does the information seem to be out-of-date and therefore irrelevant and/or unreliable?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?