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EDUCATION RESEARCH GUIDE: Evaluating Resources

Determining the Source Type

Evaluating Information Resources

On the World Wide Web, scholarly researchers face the challenge of navigating and extracting useable information from over millions of indexed sites and billions of individual web pages. Use the following evaluation criteria to help decide if the website is suitable to be used for research purposes:

URLs and Domains

Many factors go into helping you decide if website information is reliable -- the domain can help you decide, but it is only one measure and should be used as a part of the entire evaluation process.

.edu, .gov, .mil often contain the most reliable and unbiased info since the website domains for .gov and .mil have to be from government or military entities -- .edu domains are limited to post-secondary, accredited institutions.

.com, .org, .net and other newer domains, like .biz, .aero, etc... must be evaluated much closer for authority and reliability before using them for research purposes as all of these domains can be purchased. 

Authority

Look for the author's name, credentials and affiliation to give clues to the content's quality and objectivity. You should look for the same information quality from a web page as you would from a scholarly print or database source.

For pages authored by organizations, look for the site's "About Us" section. Is there contact information? A physical address where they are located?

Currency

When was the page created or last updated? Look beyond the page update information because this can easily be changed with page usage, rather than actual content update.

Is the date of the information current in relation to your research need?

Reliability & Bias

How reliable is the information provided?  Can you discern a particular bias for any of the information?  Is there an agenda that might be unspoken that shows up in the presentation or "one-sided aspect" of the information.

Accuracy

Trustworthy sites should not have obvious spelling, grammatical or factual errors. Are there links to verify the facts or statistics used?

For more information, see:

Think Like a Journalist

The basic rules for evaluating a source for quality are the same as the "5 W's" of journalism: Who, What, When, Where, and Why.

Who produced the document, image, video, sound file, etc. and what do you know about them, their credentials, and their motives?

What is the factual or emotional content of the source and does it reflect reality?

When was it produced and does that time frame alter its potential usefulness?

Where was it published and does that publisher evaluate sources before publishing them?  Does the place of publication reflect on the competence or impartiality of the source?  Is this a re-publication and, if so, where was it originally published?

Why was the item produced and published?  To educate?  To influence?  To sell something?  To promote the creator?

Evaluating Websites