Evaluate Information from Webpages
How do you know information from a Web page is true, accurate and of reasonable quality?
Although publishers, editorial boards or reviewers usually decide whether books or published articles are accurate and of decent enough quality to be published, anyone can create a Web page with no screening at all; so it is especially important to evaluate information from the Internet. The questions below should be asked when evaluating any web page. They can provide some useful guidelines and criteria to help you evaluate the quality and reliability of web pages.
Who is the author or organization that created the page?
Responsible web publications should name the creator of the information in a readily visible place on the page. Is the author an organization? Is an author not given? (What about Wikipedia articles? Click here for an explanation.)
Is the Web page part of a more extensive website?
Look for a link to “HOME” or the title of the website and click on it. If there’s no “home” link, try shortening the URL one subdirectory at a time and pressing <Enter>. This will sometimes bring you to the larger website that your page is part of.
Try to identify the type of site
- scholarly (written by researchers or experts in the field) See: popular magazines vs. academic journals
- professional (written by and primarily for those in a specific profession)
- popular (written for the general public) See: popular magazines vs. academic journals
- advocacy (promoting particular opinions/causes), including blogs
- commercial (promoting/selling services or products, or including advertisementsfor products or services -- some sites might be a combination of some of the above types.)
Identify the domain type within the URL (e.g., .edu in “http://www.skylinecollege.edu/”)
This is a key factor when evaluating a site since it often indicates the type of site where the information originates. Most common domain types are:
- .edu: an educational institution (often reliable, but can be anything from scholarly research to students’ personal pages)
- .gov: a government body (usually dependable)
- .org: a non-profit organization (may or may not be biased)
- .com: a commercial enterprise (may be trying to sell or promote a product or service)
- .net: originally for networking organizations, such as internet service providers, but now often used as an alternative to .com
Is biographical information about the page and/or site author(s) available?
Are the history, nature, and/or purpose of the page/site described?
- Look for a link such as "Who we are", “About Us”, "Philosophy," "Background," etc. on the page or the site home page.
- What are the author's qualifications or credentials? What is his/her/their background in terms of education, experience, occupation, position, affiliation, publications, etc. and why does or doesn't this make him/her/they an expert?
- Try doing a Google search to see if the institution's name or author's name comes up in other web pages and see if you can find reliable information about them.
- Can you discern anything about the credibility or reputation of the author?
- Is it an impartial group (like a university) or a group established to promote an idea or point of view (like the National Rifle Association or a political party)?
Based on your answers to the previous questions, do you feel the organization or individual(s) responsible for this website is qualified to be presenting information on this topic?
Evaluate the content:
Evaluate the research quality of this page by reviewing the content being presented:
Criteria 1: Length and substance of the text: Does this page provide a substantive, in-depth discussion of the topic, or merely a cursory, superficial overview? Is this a brief “sound-bite,” or a longer, more in-depth analysis? (In general, a page with less than about 10 medium-length paragraphs of text would be considered brief.)
Criteria 2: Author’s purpose: Is this a straightforward summary or overview of the topic, such as you would find in an encyclopedia article? Or is the author presenting a new interpretation, view, or explanation of the topic?
Criteria 3: Academic quality and reading level of the text: Is this a serious, complex, detailed, academic treatment of the topic, or is it lighter “popular” discussion geared for the general public?
Criteria 4: Originality of the text: Is this original writing, or is it copied and compiled from other sources and websites? Is this primarily a list of links?
Criteria 5: Objectivity: Is the text primarily personal opinion rather than an objective discussion? If the text is primarily opinion, is this clearly stated, i.e. is the author clear about the fact that he/she is presenting a subjective view of the topic? Does the author acknowledge that there might be other worthy points of view?
Criteria 6: Sources & Documentation: Where did the author gather the information presented? Was it from original research, experiments, observation, interviews, books and documents? If lots of factual information is given, does the author cite his/her sources? Verify that the author used authoritative sources to back up his/her arguments and conclusions.