Evaluating Web Sites
Just as you would with anything on an open bulletin board, you need to look at every web page or web site and figure out if it is trustworthy, accurate, and up-to-date.
- Who or what is responsible for the information?
- What are the credentials (academic degrees, background, experience) oraffiliation (university, government agency, advocacy group, private business) of the person or organization?
- Is there a way of verifying the legitimacy of the web page sponsor? An e-mail address is not enough! Is there additional contact information, such as a phone number or street address? What can you find out about the person, group or agency?
- What does the URL tell you? Is this a personal site? Government site? Education site?
Accuracy and Validity
- Compare the information in the web site to information on the same topic from other sources. Do you see differences, or agreement?
- Is there a bibliography? Is the information in the text cited?
- What is the overall purpose of the particular web page and the particular web site? Why does it exist--for entertainment, to sell an idea, or product, to persuade, to inform? If it is not a scholarly site, is it still an appropriate source for your research?
- Who or what seems to be the intended audience?
- Is the author's point of view objective and impartial?
- What are the perspectives, assumptions, and biases of the person or organization responsible for the information?
- Does the site include advertisements or product promotion?
- Does the information reflect the most up-to-date findings or events?
- When was the information gathered? When was the information published?
- Is the information in its original form or has it been revised?
- When was the site last updated? Is it a date appropriate for the subject matter? (i.e., A site about Shakespeare that has not been updated for two years may be adequately up-to-date; a two-year-old site about the social costs of hurricanes is not up-to-date.)
- Where else can the information be found?
- Is this information unique or is it copied from somewhere else?
- Is there a clear statement of the purpose of the web page?
- Does the site tell you if the information is limited by time period, geographical area, demographic group, etc.?
- Are there significant omissions or gaps in the information?
Technical Aspects of a Web Site
- Do the links take you to other sites, or are they "dead" links?
- Are there grammatical, spelling, or typographical errors? These not only indicate a lack of quality control, but can cause inaccuracies.
The web is only one information source. The best research relies on sources in a variety of formats: articles, books, encyclopedias, scholarly databases, educational films, in-person experts, etc. Think about the value of a web site compared to other sources on the same topic. There may be a more comprehensive print source that would be a better choice.
More about evaluating information on the web:
Updated 15-May-2009 SWH