Evaluating Web Sites

Run time: 4:28 | Transcript


Welcome to this Library Tutorial on evaluating Web sites. In this tutorial, you will learn how to determine whether a Web site contains trustworthy information that is appropriate for college level research. 

Many Web sites contain trustworthy information that is appropriate to use in college-level research. But because no one regulates information placed on the Web, there are also Web sites that you would not want to use in a research paper: Web sites, for example, with out-of-date, inaccurate or biased information.  

Here are some questions you can ask that will help you  critically evaluate information you find on the Web:

  • Who is the author of the Web site?
  • Does the Web site present information that is biased, one-sided?
  • Does the Web site present accurate information?
  • Is the Web site current enough for your research topic?

This tutorial will explore those questions in more detail. 

When evaluating a Web site, ask yourself, who has written the Web site content? Are the author’s credentials given? Think about the author’s expertise and credibility. Knowing who wrote the content can help you determine the Web site’s trustworthiness. 

You may find an author whose credentials are not given on the Web site. When that happens, use Google or another search engine to see if you can find information on the author elsewhere on the Web. 

Frequently, an organization can be considered the author of a Web site. For example, the author of a Web site might be a business, a professional association or a government agency. You can usually find a link on an organization’s Web site that provides information about the organization—its activities, mission, leadership and so on. Learning about the organization can help you judge the credibility of the information on the organization’s Web site. 

When evaluating a Web site, also ask yourself, does the Web site present information that is objective and neutral as possible, or is the Web site presenting biased, one-sided information? Depending on your research project, it may be appropriate for you to use biased information.

For example, if you are presenting both sides of an argument in a pro/con essay about the chemical industry and environmental groups, you could cite information from a chemical industry association and from environmental activists. But you need to be aware of possible bias in a Web site and use—or not use—that Web site accordingly.  

When evaluating a Web site, you should also ask, is the information on the Web site accurate? Compare the information on the Web site with knowledge you have gained from other sources in the course of your research, to see if the Web site contains errors. For example, you might compare the information in a Web site with scholarly articles you have read in library databases, with reference books and so on. Also, does the Web site give sources for the information it presents, sources you can look up and verify? 

Timeliness is another important factor, especially if you are researching a subject in which knowledge can change rapidly, like health and medicine, business or technology. Does the Web site date its information? If so, is the information is current enough for the topic you are researching? 

You can find trustworthy, useful information on all types of Web sites: commercial Web sites, organization, government, education Web sites and so on. But no matter what kind of Web site you are using, you must critically evaluate the information it contains. 

At our library Web site, you can find more information on evaluating Web resources. And, if you have any questions about your research, please contact us via Ask a Librarian.