General Research Guides

Evaluating Web Resources

Use this guide for help in evaluating web sites that anyone can create or access -- sites from the "free" web. The free web is rarely filtered, often making it difficult to determine the content's accuracy; sites on the free web also may not be edited or fact-checked. For these reasons, it is essential to review each site carefully according to specific criteria before using it for research purposes.

If you are using web resources found through a search engine (such as Google), sources recommended by a friend, or sources linked to from another web site, you should apply the following criteria before using the information in an academic research paper.

Authority

Determining the author or source of information for a web site is important in deciding whether information has credibility. The author should show some evidence of being knowledgeable, reliable, and truthful.

  • Who authored the site? Look for links that say "Who We Are," "About This Site," "About Us," or something similar.
  • Is there contact information for the author or the organization responsible for the site? Look for an e-mail address, mailing address, or phone number.
  • What are the author’s credentials? Look for biographical information that includes the author’s affiliations, such as a university, organization, or company.
  • Can you verify the credentials? Are they made up? Remember that it is very easy to create an identity on the web.
  • Does the author cite his or her sources? These sources may be verified by looking them up in Bowman Library’s Article & Research Databases or the Book & Media Catalog.
  • Whose web site is this? What organization is sponsoring the site? Look for links to a home page that gives more information on the sponsoring organization.
  • Do links on this site lead to other reputable sites? Check to see if the links connect to government or social service organizations or to individuals’ home pages.
  • Are there spelling errors or is grammar used incorrectly?
  • To what domain does the site belong (e.g., .edu, .gov, .com, etc.)?
  • Is it a personal page or site? Be aware of tildes (~) in the URL, which often identify a personal directory on a web site.

Currency

Like classic literature, some work is ageless, while other work, like technology news, is outdated very rapidly. It is important, therefore, to determine when the information was created and if it is still worthwhile.

  • When was the site originally posted to the web?
  • When was the site last updated or revised? The content may be out-of-date even if the date is recent. The last update could have been a correction to a typo or e-mail address.
  • Is the information up-to-date? This will take time to determine. Compare the information on the web site to information available from other sources.
  • Do the links on the site work? Broken links are one measure of an out-of-date site.

Objectivity versus Bias

Occasionally, web sites pretending to be objective have a hidden agenda and may be trying to persuade, promote, or sell something.

  • What is the purpose or motive for the site? Biased information is not necessarily “bad,” but you should be aware of the bias when using a source.
  • Is the site trying to sell you something? Verify that advertisements are clearly separate from the objective information on the site.
  • Based on your knowledge, is the information fact, opinion, propaganda, etc.? Look at the facts that the author does provide and think about the facts that the author does not provide.
  • Who is the intended audience and how is this reflected in the organization and presentation of the site? Based on the author’s authority, see if you can identify a conflict of interest; for example, a member of the Milk Processing Board authoring a site that promotes cheese as a cure for the common cold may have a biased view.

Support

While not all web sites claim to be comprehensive, with some only covering specific aspects of an issue or topic, it is important to look at the depth of coverage to determine whether facts have been deliberately omitted.

  • Does the author include support for the information presented? Look for links or citations to sources.
  • Does the page include a variety of sources? Evaluate what has and has not been cited by comparing the sources to other databases, journals, or books on the same topic.
  • Can sources be verified? Be suspicious of web sites that make it difficult to check sources.

Style and Functionality

Evaluating web sites for style and functionality may not be a concern once you have determined the site is authoritative. However, if the information on the site is going to be shared with others, the design may become more important.

  • Is the site professional looking and well designed?
  • Is the site well organized? Poor organization can make it difficult to return to a page that is needed later.
  • Is the site complete, or “under construction”?
  • Are images used to enhance, rather than to impress? Poor use of images can distract from content.

Still Not Sure?

Even after you’ve evaluated a web page according to these criteria, you still may not be sure if it is appropriate to use for your research. In this case, ask a Librarian or your faculty member to review the page with you.

Page Last Updated: February 14 2013

Bowman Library

1000 El Camino Real
Atherton, CA 94027
650.543.3825 (circ desk)
650.543.3826 (ref desk)

Hours:
M-Th, 8 a.m. - 11 p.m.
F, 8 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Sa, 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Su, 1 - 11 p.m.
Special Hours

Research Tips

These Research Guides have been prepared by librarians to assist with your research. Read more:

Evaluating Web Resources

Critically Analyzing Information Sources

Searching Electronic Resources Effectively

For more information on citation style, see:

Citing Your Research