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Evaluating Internet Sources: Evaluation Criteria

A guide to evaluating websites for quality

Evaluating Internet Sources

Use the criteria below as you evaluate Internet resources. The lack of control over information available on the internet, both in regard to the accuracy of the information provided and the general lack of an organizational scheme, emphasize the need for individuals to apply evaluative criteria on their own. Comparing information on a website with that available via a credible print or electronic source can also provide you with a frame of reference as you apply these guidelines.

The links included in each category below serve to illustrate the criteria being addressed.

How did you find the website?

How you located the site can give you a start on your evaluation of the site's validity as an academic resource.

  • Was it found via a search conducted through a search engine like Google? Unlike library databases, the accuracy and/or quality of information located via a search engine will vary greatly. Look carefully!
  • Was it recommended by a faculty member or another reliable source? Generally, an indicator of reliability.
  • Was it cited in a scholarly or credible source? Generally, an indicator of reliability.
  • Was it a link from a reputable site? Generally, an indicator of reliability.

Identify the website's domain

Think of this as "decoding" the URL, or Internet address. The origination of the site can provide indications of the site's mission or purpose. The most common domains are:

  • .org : An advocacy web site, such as a not-for-profit organization.
  • .com : A business or commercial site.
  • .net : A site from a network organization or an Internet service provider.
  • .edu : A site affiliated with a higher education institution.
  • .gov : A federal government site.
  • il.us : A state government site, this also includes public schools and community colleges.
  • .uk (United Kingdom) : A site originating in another country (as indicated by the 2 letter code).

For a list of all registered domains, visit the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority website.

  A tilde ( ~ ) in a .edu address, especially before a name, usually indicates a personal page.

Authority

Look for information on the author of the site. On the internet anyone can pose as an authority.

  • Is the author's name visible? Or does the author have an affiliation with an organization or institution?
  • Does the author list his or her credentials? Are they relevant to the information presented? example: What is Diabetes?
  • Is there a mailing address or telephone number included, as well as an e-mail address/link? example: American Psychological Association (look at the bottom of the page)

Accuracy and Objectivity

There are no standards or controls on the accuracy of information available via the Internet! The internet can be used by anyone as a sounding board for their own thoughts and opinions.

  • How accurate is the information presented? Does the site present facts or statistics that can be verified elsewhere? Are the site's sources of cited? Is there a bibliography included? Compare the web site to related sources, electronic or print, for assistance in determining accuracy.
    Compare the information in these two examples:
      HIV and Women
      The True But Little Known Facts About Women and Aids
    Check this website for accuracy. Can you verify the information?
      Dihydrogen Monoxide Research Division
  • Is the web site objective? Is there a reason the site is presenting a particular point of view on a topic?
    Try to determine the bias in these two examples:
      Why We Shouldn't Legalize Assisting Suicide
      Beef Nutrition
  • Does the page contain advertising? Or are advertisements disguised as information? This may impact the content of the information included.  Look carefully to see if there is a relationship between the advertising and the content, or whether the advertising is simply providing financial support for the page.

Currency

This refers to the timeliness of the information and examines whether or not the page is currently being maintained.

  • Is the information provided current?
      example: Cruise Critic
  • When was the page created?
      often found on the bottom of the page
  • Are dates included for the last update, review, or modification of the page?
      often found on the bottom of the page. Example: How much physical activity do children need?
  • Are the links current and functional?

Functionality

The ease of use of a site and its ability to help you locate information you are looking for are examples of the site's functionality.

  • Is the site easy to navigate? Are options to return to the home page, tops of pages, etc., provided?
  • Are there lots of typos or grammatical errors on the site?
  • Is the site searchable?
  • Does the site include a site map or index?

  Just because a website looks good, does not necessarily means it contains high quality, unbiased information. Always apply all of the evaluation criteria to every site that you use.