Evaluating Websites

Be skeptical about what you find on the Web. Think critically about where the information is coming from, who wrote it, and why they wrote it. When you do a Google search, train yourself to look for certain features in the URL or snippet of text from the page, before you even click on it. This can save a lot of time.

Here are questions to ask yourself about webpages you find:

Coverage

  • Is the topic explored in depth, or it is just an overview?
  • Does the information add to or support your research, or could you find better information elsewhere?
  • Does the page provide additional useful links to other reliable information?

Reliability

  • Can you tell where the information is coming from?  If information from another source is quoted, is it cited properly?
  • Are there spelling or grammatical errors on the page?
  • Is the page dated, to indicate when the information was created or updated?
  • How up-to-date are the links; are some of them dead?

Authority

  • Is an author identified? 
  • Is there a header or footer showing the author's affiliation and contact information?
  • Based on information you can find about the author, does she or he appear to be an expert on this topic?
  • If the author is affiliated with an organization, what type of organization is it?  What is the domain name/URL (for example, .com, .edu, .org or .gov)?  If it’s a .edu site, was it written by a professor, rather than an undergraduate?

Purpose

  • What is the motive behind the publication of this page (for example, selling products/advertising, educational, advocacy on an issue, consumer information, academic discussion, etc.)?
  • Is the information biased, or are both sides of an issue presented fairly?
  • Is there a clear mission statement?
  • Can you tell who the intended audience is?

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More Detail on Evaluating Information Sources:

 

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Using Wikipedia

Anyone can edit Wikipedia (see Wikipedia: Introduction) so it is not reliable for scholarly research.  You cannot cite it as a source in a research paper.

However, it is great for:

  • Getting an overview of a topic
  • Finding vocabulary and keywords related to the topic you are researching.
  • Finding new ideas that you hadn’t thought of before related to the topic you are researching.
  • Information about current events and pop culture.
  • Links to further information and references (although they aren’t always kept up-to-date).