Evaluating Web Sources

You can access any information on the Web.  The challenge is to find credible sources when you’re researching for an academic project. What are things you should look for when evaluating an online source for credibility?

  • How credible do you need the information to be? If your project is a presentation about current news topics, you will be safe using non-acclaimed news articles.  If you are going to be doing any research, you’ll need to look deeper for more academic sources.
  • How did you find the information?  If you used a search engine, be advised that the information you find may very well be inaccurate or low-quality.  Search engines can produce websites that have paid to put their name at the top of the list, whether they’re accurate or not.  Library databases are more reliable sources of information.  Links from reputable sites like government agencies or the American Psychological Association are also more accurate (usually). Also, recommendations from faculty members who know the field are usually trustworthy.
  • What is the site’s domain?  The three letters after the dot at the end of a Web address mean a lot. 
    • 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.
    • .uk (United Kingdom) : A site originating in another country (2 letter code).
    • ~:The tilde usually indicates a personal page.
  • Does the page have an authority? Look for an author’s name posted prominently on the website, as well as their institution, detailed contact information, and relevent credentials (education and work).
  • Is the information accurate and objective? Common sense can help you be a good judge here.  Look for 1. citations to other documents within the source (which can also be good references as well!), 2. its accuracy in comparison to other similar sources you’ve found online, 3. an objective viewpoint (depending on what you’re writing, you may want opinions, but make sure you get both sides of the story), and 4. the amount, type and purpose of the advertising on the page.
  • What is the date on the source?  Be aware of the constant updates going on on the Web.  Check when the site was last revised if possible, as well as the date the page itself was created and the dates on the information. Sometimes you may need outdated information to prove a point, so it’s not bad—you just need to pay attention to the date.
  • Is the page professional and user friendly? Look at the overall image you get from looking at the site.  Well-organized, functional Websites are more credible than ones that are difficult to navigate.  Look for a home bar at the top of the page, a search bar, and a site map or contact page.

(Some information retrieved from the University of Illinois Library.)