Patrick Power Library
Evaluating Internet Resources
Note: For more information on this topic, including some concrete examples of things you should look for when evaluating web sources, try our brief, interactive tutorial Evaluating Web Sources (it contains audio).
It is important to evaluate Internet resources critically, as not everything you read online is reliable and true. Anyone can create a website, which means many websites lack the quality controls (e.g. editing and fact checking) that are used in publishing other types of resources (e.g. scholarly journals).
When using websites for research, use the following ABCs as criteria for website evaluation:
To evaluate the quality of the information they contain, apply the following questions to websites:
Is the information reliable and high in quality?
- Does the author cite specific sources? Are the sources credible? Look for footnotes, a reference list, or a bibliography.
- Can the information be verified in another source? Try to find the information in a different source.
- Are there editors or reviewers? Look for evidence of editors or reviewers.
- Are there grammar or spelling errors on the page? Be cautious of pages that are poorly written, as carelessness in writing, grammar, and spelling may be a sign of poor-quality information.
Who is responsible for the information and the website?
- Are the author's name, credentials, and contact information included on the website? Is the author affiliated with a reputable insitution? Organization? University?
- Who takes care of the website? Webmasters are responsible for maintaining websites and may not be responsible for their content.
- Why was the website created? Look for a section or page on the website called "About," "Background," or "Contact," to find out where the website comes from.
- Is the information found on a personal web page, found on or linked from Facebook or Twitter, or hosted on a blogging website such as WordPress or Tumblr? In such cases, you should take a close look at the author's qualifications in relation to the topic.
- What does the domain name tell you about the source? Domain names (e.g. .edu, .com, .biz, .gov, .org, .ca, etc.) can give you clues about the type of organization, their purpose, or the organization's geographic location.
Is the information presented more or less objectively?
- Is the information opinion or fact? Check for citations.
- Does the author promote one particular political or religious stance on an issue? Does promoting one viewpoint over another benefit the author or affiliated organization? Look for links to sections such as "About," "Mission Statement," "Purpose," etc.
- What is the purpose of the page? Is the information meant to entertain? Sell a product or service? Inform the public?
- If there are advertisements, are they clearly distinguished from the content?
Is the topic adequately covered? Is the information what you need?
- What information is included? What is excluded? Fully explore all the pages of the site and the additional links provided for more information.
- Is there in-depth or superficial coverage of the topic? How much detail is provided? For example, is the website an encyclopedia or dictionary?
- Consider the site's intended audience - a site for the general public or school students may not have enough information for your research needs.
- Is this a commercial site? Is the information also advertising a product or service? Be careful of websites that provide only a small amount of information for free and ask users to pay for additional information.
- Is there a better source (available in print or through the library's databases) that provides more complete coverage? If the page does not provide enough coverage for your needs, consult the library's subject guides to find alternate resources.
Is the information up-to-date?
- How old is the information? Look for a date, either when the content was created or when it was last updated. If there is no date, examine the publication dates of any sources cited to get a rough idea of how current the information is.
- When was the page last updated or revised? For example, numerous broken links suggest that the page has probably not been updated recently.
- Does your information need to be up to date? Remember, for many topics (e.g. finance, health, science), currency of information is usually very important.
All of the above criteria work together. For example, a website might go into great detail about a topic, but if the information is not current or accurate, or if you cannot tell much about the author's qualifications, you should search elsewhere.
Consider your own purpose: what are you going to use this information for? It is your responsibility to evaluate the websites you use for your research. Be vigilant in choosing websites with reliable and good quality information.