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Resource Evaluation

Quick Version

CURRENCY-Do you have the most recent information? Check the top and bottom of the page for the publication date, copyright date, or date last updated.

AUTHORITY-Can you trust this author? Check for verifiability, contact information/credentials, and topic coverage.

RELIABILITY-Can you count on this site? Will it be here tomorrow and should it be? Check the domain, site maintenance, fees, and your own gut instinct.

PURPOSE-For whom was this site made and why?

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When it comes to determining the usefulness of a website, Currency, Authority, Reliability, and Purpose are the four most important elements to evaluate (aka CARP).

Think about it. You wouldn't eat expired yogurt, right? Nor would you want someone who thinks that Pluto is still a planet to tell you about space. Out-of-date information is just as dangerous and out-of-date food. If a website isn't current, you can end up with the wrong information, which can not only make you look silly, it can get in the way of creating the best possible project/assignment and hurt your grade.
  • How recent is the information?
  • Can you locate a date when the page(s) were written/created/updated?
  • Does the website appear to update automatically (this could mean no one is actually looking at it)?
  • Based in your topic, is it current enough?

One great thing about the web is that anyone can make a website. (We made this one!) On the other hand, it's important to keep in mind that ANYONE can make a website. Usually, you are researching something because you don't know much about it, so that makes it difficult to know where to put your trust. 

Authority essentially asks if the person who created the site has the credibility to be doing so. If so, there is a greater chance that the site will be accurate. There are many things to check:
  • Can you determine who the author/creator is?
  • Is there a way to contact them?
  • What are their credentials (education, affiliation, experience, etc.)?
  • Is there evidence they're experts on the subject?
  • Who is the publisher or sponsor of the site?
  • Is this publisher/sponsor reputable?
  • Can you find any additional information about the author? Does he/she have the proper background to make their claims? Are they respected in their field? The same applies for a group/organization. Check the "About Us" area of an organization page. 
  • Look for cited sources and use them to fact-check whenever possible. 
  • See if you can corroborate (confirm) the information.
  • How in-depth is the author covering the topic? Does he/she claim to know everything? Make sweeping generalizations? Acknowledge opposing arguments?
  • Are there many spelling and grammatical errors? An expert who doesn't proofread isn't much of an expert at all! 

The next step is to determine if the site is reliable. There are many things that can help determine reliability:
  • What kind of information is included in the website?
  • Based on your other research, is it accurate? ...complete?
  • Is the content primarily fact, or opinion?
  • Is the information balanced, or biased?
  • Does the author provide references for quotations and data?
  • If there are links, do they work?
  • Does the site have staying power? Will it be there tomorrow? Who hosts the site? Evaluate the domain of the URL. The following are usually true:
    • .com=commercial/business
    • .net, .org=organizations
    • .edu=higher education
    • .gov=federal government site
    • government site
  • Is the site properly maintained? Do all of the links work?
  • Is the site free or fee? 

Why does this site exist? Now you are looking for any bias or slant that might influence or pollute the information. Is the author's goal to persuade, to teach, to sell?  
  • Is the site is selling something? Keep in mind that the results on the right side of the Google search page are all ads. Additionally, the results with colored backgrounds are ads.  
  • What's the intent of the website (to persuade, to sell you something, etc.)? Check the "Mission," "Purpose," or "About Us" links.
  • What is the domain (.edu, .org, .com, etc.)? How might that influence the purpose/point of view?
  • Are there ads on the website? How do they relate to the topic being covered (e.g., an ad for ammunition next to an article about firearms legislation)?
  • Is the author presenting fact, or opinion?
  • Who might benefit from a reader believing this website?
  • Based on the writing style, who is the intended audience?