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Education: Evaluating Websites

Evaluating Websites

A - Author/Authenticity

Who are the authors of the material? 

  • Look for a name and e-mail.

    • Often at the bottom of the page, or in a section called something like "About us" or "Contact us."

    • It is usually not the same person as the "webmaster" or page designer (except in personal pages). This person is a technician or may have been hired to put the content on the web.

  • Are the author's credentials provided? Does this person seem to be a reliable authority on the subject?

    • Look all over (top, bottom, side bars, etc.) for a link to an "About us" or "Biography" section, a "Philosophy," etc.?

Anonymous pages or pages created by people with no real credentials (such as high school students) are not suitable for college-level research.

What is the source of the information? Examine the URL (address) for further clues.

  • What type of domain does it come from (educational, non-profit, commercial, etc.)?

    • Is it appropriate for the content?

      • Government sites: look for .gov, .mil, .us, or other country code (such as .ca for Canada, .uk for United Kingdom, etc.)

      • Educational sites: look for .edu or a country code

      • Non-profit organizations: look for .org or a country code

  • Who "published" the page?

    • In general, the publisher is the agency or person operating the "server" computer from which the document is issued.

      • The server is usually named in first portion of the URL (between http:// and the first /) .

  • Is it somebody's personal page?

    • Read the URL carefully:

      • Is the server a commercial ISP or other provider of web page hosting (like aol.com, geocities.com, or earthlink.net)?

      • Look for a personal name (e.g., jbarker or barker) following a tilde ( ~ ) or or the word "users" or "people."

B - Bias/Objectivity

Are there sponsors, affiliations that could represent potential conflicts of interest? Look for advertising or sponsorship statements that could reflect biased information. Check to see if different viewpoints are presented.  Think about the point of view of the "publisher," identified above. 

For example:
You could expect opposing viewpoints on drilling for oil on federal lands from greenpeace.org and exxon.com.  
Support for smokers' rights might be expressed on rjrt.com (RJ Reynolds Tobacco), while cancer.org (American Cancer Society) will be against smoking. 

C - Currency/Content

How accurate does the information seem to be? Look for typos, spelling and grammatical errors. Verify the information using reputable sources such as journals, books, and other experts in the field for comparisons. Check bibliographic references for confirmation of data.

Is the information current? Look for dates that indicate the timeliness of the information, when it was posted on the web and how frequently it is updated.

Watch the brief video below for a more detailed description of how evaluate websites.

 

Watch the brief video below for a more detailed description of how and when to use sources from websites.

Example Internet Search:  Pain Management

Example 1     Example 2     Example 3

When searching for resources on the Web think about CABLE!

C  Currency

A  Authority

B  Bias

L  Level

E  Explore

Currency - Knowing when the Website was created can help you judge the quality of the information found there.  Some information (such as historical facts) will not change, but other information (like stock quotes) changes daily.  
 
Authority - Knowing about the author of the information is useful.  Is the author an expert in his/her field?  Check the domain name, as it can offer identifying information about the site.
 
Bias - Think about the purpose of the site.  Is there a position/opinion presented?  Also, notice any sites that are linked to it.
 
Level - Even if a site has useful information, it doesn't necessarily mean that it is appropriate for college-level work.  Ask yourself the following questions:  Is the site popular or scholarly?  Is the information correct?  Is the research well-supported?
 
Explore - It is important to explore further!  Did you verify the information in at least one additional source?  Did you investigate the author or publisher of the site?  Did you find reviews, criticism, or rankings of the Websites?
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