Evaluating Web Sites

Just as we don’t believe everything we read in the newspapers or see on TV, we shouldn't believe everything we retrieve on the Internet.

There are five basic criteria that we can use to evaluate Internet sites: accuracy, authority, objectivity, currency, & coverage. They are very similar to the criteria used for evaluating other resources.

ACCURACY

Almost anyone can publish a web site, and there are currently no standards governing content. Here are some questions to ask when checking for the accuracy of a site.

  1. Does the author cite sources used to develop the site?
  2. Is it possible to verify the legitimacy of these sources?
  3. Does the background of the author point to knowledge of the subject matter?
  4. If the site is research-based, does the author clearly identify the method of research and the data gathered?

AUTHORITY

Because publishing on the Web is so easy, determining the author’s expertise is essential. Ask yourself the following questions to determine the author’s credibility.

  1. Do you recognize the author's name?
  2. If you don't recognize the name, what type of information is given
    • About the author?
    • Position?
    • Organizational affiliation?
    • E-mail address?
    • Biographical information?
  3. Was the site referenced in a document that you trust?

OBJECTIVITY

Any published source, print or non-print, is rarely 100% objective. Determining the author’s point of view or bias is very important when evaluating a web site. Remember, the Internet has become a highly popular arena for all types of publishing.

  1. What is the aim of the author or organization publishing the site?
  2. What is the purpose of the web site:
    • Is it an advertisement for a product or service?
    • Is it making a political statement?
    • Is it trying to sway public opinion on a social or religious issue?
  3. Do you trust the author or organization providing the information?

CURRENCY

The currency of the information posted on a web site is extremely important to its overall value. With certain topics, the subject matter may affect the need for highly current information. Ask the following questions:

  1. Is a date clearly displayed?
  2. Can you determine what the date refers to?
    • When the page was first written?
    • When the page was first posted on the Internet?
    • When the page was last revised or updated?
    • The copyright date?
    • Are the resources used by the author current?
  3. Does the content demand routine or continual updating or revision?
  4. Do the links on the page point to the correct Internet site addresses?

COVERAGE

The last criteria to consider is coverage. This may be difficult to determine, because the nature of a site's coverage may differ from that of a print resource. However, you should examine these points.

  1. Are the topics covered on the site explored in depth?
  2. Are the links on the site comprehensive or used as examples?
  3. On the site, are the links relevant and appropriate?
  4. How valuable is the information provided?

Remember: Evaluating and understanding information is as important as locating it!