Research Guides

Evaluating Websites

Every source (book, journal article or website) needs to be evaluated by specific criteria to ensure the source is trustworthy, reliable and useful for academic research.

Five Criteria

Here are 5 criteria we use to evaluate websites.

Evaluation of Print Documents

How to interpret the Basics

Author / Source / Authority
Who wrote the page, is there an author and can you contact the author?

What is the purpose of the document and why was it produced?

Is this person qualified to write this document?

Who published the document and is it separate from the “Webmaster?”

What institution publishes this document? (Check the domain of the page.)

Does the publisher list his/her qualifications?

Make sure author provides e-mail or a contact address/phone number
Know the distinction between author and Webmaster

What credentials are listed for the author(s)?

Where is the document published? Check URL domain
Accuracy
Is the page from a peer-reviewed publication?

Can the content be verified (are there footnotes or a bibliography)?

Is the content accurate (spelling and grammer)?
Make sure the content is consistent with other material on the same subject / topic.

Alternate opinions are acceptable but facts need to be consistent.

Poorly prepared content should make you cautious about accepting the material presented.
Objectivity of Web Documents
What goals/objectives does this page meet?

How detailed is the information?

What opinions (if any) are expressed by the author?

Are there advertisements on the page?

Does the content seem to be 'one-sided' (biased)?
Determine if page is a mask for advertising; if so information might be biased.

View any Web page as you would an infomercial on television. Ask yourself why was this written and for whom?
Currency of Web Documents
When was it produced?

When was it updated?

How up-to-date are the links (if any)?
How many dead links are on the page?

Are the links current or updated regularly?

Is the information on the page updated?
Coverage of the Web Documents
Are the links (if any) evaluated and do they complement the documents’ theme?

Is it all images or a balance of text and images?

Is the information presented cited correctly?
If page requires special software to view the information, how much is missing if you don’t have the software?

Is it free or is there a fee to obtain the information?

Is there an option for text only, or a suggested browser for better viewing?

Putting it all together

  • Accuracy.  If the site lists the author and institution that published the page and provides a way of contacting the author(s) . . . and . . .
  • Authority. If the site lists the author's credentials and its domain is preferred (.edu, .gov, .org) . . . and . . .
  • Objectivity. If the site provides accurate information with limited advertising and is objective in presenting the information . . . and . . .
  • Currency. If the site is current and updated regularly (as stated on the page) and the links (if any) are also up-to-date . . . and . . .
  • Coverage. If you can view the information properly (not limited to fees, browser technology, or software requirements) . . . then . . .
You may have a reliable Web source for your research!

Can you use a website that does NOT meet all these criteria?

Sometimes it is acceptable to use content from a site that does not meet these standards.  If you are doing research on Holocaust denial you may need to use sites by organizations that deny the Holocaust.  However, it would be a good idea to note in your paper that information from such sites may be questionable and is used for the purpose of illustration.

[Adapted from Jim Kapoun, “Teaching undergrads WEB evaluation: a guide for library instruction,”  C&RL News, July/August 1998, 523.]