Patrick Power Library

Evaluating Internet Resources

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Note: For more information on this topic, including some concrete examples of things you should look for in web information, try our brief, interactive tutorial Evaluating Web Sources. It contains audio.

As with any resources that you use for research, it is essential that you evaluate Internet resources for their quality and appropriateness. This is especially true for websites that are publicly available on the World Wide Web, because many websites lack the quality controls (such as editors and reviewers) that are used in publishing other types of resources (e.g., scholarly journals).

When using websites for research, there are five general criteria to consider:

To evaluate the quality of the information they contain, apply the following questions and strategies to the websites:


Accuracy

Is the information reliable and high in quality?

  • Does the author cite any sources? Are the sources credible?
  • Can the information be verified in another source?
  • Are there editors or reviewers?
  • Is the information from an electronic journal? Has it been published in a paper format, as a journal article or part of a book?
  • Are there grammar or spelling errors on the page?

Strategies:

  • Look for footnotes, a reference list, or a bibliography
  • Look for evidence of editors or reviewers. For example, information from books or journals has likely been edited and/or peer reviewed
  • Verify the information in other sources
  • Be cautious of pages that are poorly written. Carelessness in writing, grammar, spelling, numerous broken links, etc., may be a sign of poor-quality information

Authority

Who is responsible for the information?

  • Is the author’s name clearly stated?
  • Is there a way to contact the author by mail, phone, or email?

What are the author’s qualifications?

  • Are the author’s credentials listed? If so, are they relevant to the topic?
  • Is there a link to the author’s biography, curriculum vitae, or resume?
  • Is the author affiliated with a reputable institution or organization such as a university?

Strategies:

  • Find out who is responsible for the page. Keep in mind that webmasters are responsible for maintaining websites and may not be responsible for the content of sites
  • Look for a section or page on the website called “About,“ “Background,” “Contact,” etc.
  • Find out if the author has written anything else on the topic (e.g., search the Web or the library catalogue for the author's name)
  • Examine the web address (URL) for information about the site:
    • A personal name, a tilde [~], or a percent sign [%] in the URL can indicate a personal web page, as can a page that is hosted by a commercial Internet provider such as geocities.com or angelfire.com. In such cases, you should take a close look at the author's qualifications
    • Domain names (e.g., .edu, .com, .biz, .gov, .org, .ca, etc.) can give you clues about the type of organization or the organization's geographic location
    • Check to see who is linking to the page. For example, in Google, type the word link: followed by the web page's URL. Are reputable organizations linking to the page?
    • If you cannot identify the publisher or sponsor of the page, strip back the URL until you get to the sponsoring organization (e.g., http://www.improb.com/airchives/classical/cat/cat.html)

Viewpoint

Is the information presented objectively? Are opinions or biases openly stated?

  • Does the author promote one particular viewpoint or opinion? Are other viewpoints represented fairly (or at all)?
  • Is there evidence of a conflict of interest? Does the author or affiliated organization stand to benefit from promoting one viewpoint over another?
  • Who is the intended audience – experts, the general public, school students, etc.?
  • Does the page contain advertising? Are the advertisements clearly distinguished from the content?

Strategies:

  • Identify the main purpose of the page. Is it meant to entertain? Sell a product or service? Inform the public?
  • Look for links to sections such as "About," "Mission Statement," "Purpose," etc.
  • Watch for biased or manipulative arguments or highly emotional language and tone
  • If something seems unlikely or unbelievable, be suspicious. Verify the information in other, trustworthy sources
  • Is supporting evidence provided to back up the information or claims that are made (e.g., cited references)?

Currency

Is the information up-to-date?

  • When was the content on the page first created?
  • When was the content last updated or revised?

Strategies:

  • Look for dates (e.g., a date when the information was created, posted to the web, last revised, date of copyright, etc.)
  • If there is no date given, examine the publication dates of sources cited in the footnotes, reference list, or bibliography
  • Beware of links that don't work. Numerous broken links suggest that the page hasn’t been updated recently

Coverage

Is the topic adequately covered?

  • What information is included? What is excluded?
  • Is there in-depth or superficial coverage of the topic?
  • Are there links to additional sources? Are they relevant and useful?
  • Are there graphics? Do they support or add to the content of the site or page?
  • Is all of the information available for free or is there a fee for certain information?

Is the information what you need?

  • Is there a better source (available in print or through the library's electronic databases) that provides more complete coverage?

Strategies:

  • Fully explore all the pages of a site and the additional links provided for more information
  • Consider the site's intended audience -- a site for the general public may not go deeply enough into the topic for your needs
  • If the page does not provide enough coverage for your needs, consult the library's subject guides to find alternate resources

Web Guides

More Information on evaluation methods and finding quality information on the web:

The Internet Detective: an Interactive Tutorial on Evaluating the Quality of Internet resources This tutorial looks at the critical thinking required when using the Internet for research and offers practical advice on evaluating the quality of web sites
   
Finding Information on the Internet: A Tutorial This tutorial includes guides to web browsers, recommended search strategies, tables comparing the features of search engines, subject directories, and techniques for evaluating web pages
   
Recommended Internet Sources  Saint Mary’s Library library guide that organizes and lists by subject recommended web resources selected by our librarians for quality of information.