Websites vary widely in the quality of information they provide. Unlike the reliably credible information provided by the library's resources, doing research on the Web requires that you be extra vigilant about the sources you use. Never assume the information you find on a new or unfamiliar website is good information without first evaluating it.
Currency - The timeliness of the information
- Has the information been revised or updated recently?
- If the site was last updated over a year ago it may indicate that it is no longer being actively maintained. Look for dates at the bottom of site pages.
- Are many links non-functional?
- Finding a single broken link is commonplace but many broken links indicate a lack of maintenance.
Relevance - The importance of the information for your needs
- Is the information relevant to your research or assignment needs?
- The information should be appropriate for a college-level course.
- The language used should not be too difficult for you to understand.
Authority - The source of the information
- Who is the author, publisher, or sponsor of the website?
- Look for an About or About Us page for answers to this question.
- What can you identify about their credentials and experiences that makes this a good source of information for your research?
- You should always learn more about the sources of your information. You should have enough trust in the credibility of the information you use to defend it if challenged.
Accuracy - The reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the content
- Are there any spelling or grammatical errors?
- A single spelling error is no big deal but many mistakes could be a cause for concern.
- Where does the information come from and is it supported by evidence?
- Determine if the information is based on personal experience, objective reporting, scientific research, unsubstantiated gossip, etc.
- Look for citations and links to other publications and websites which will allow you to verify sources of information.
Purpose - The reason the information exists
- What is the purpose of the information and is this purpose clearly stated?
- Identify why the website exists. This is usually found in the About Us page. Maybe it is to sell a product, change an opinion or belief, entertain, or inform.
- Look for bias (personal, political, cultural, religious, etc.) in the information presented. Biased points of view are not necessarily bad things, especially if they support your own views - just be aware they exist.
- Understand that some websites will intentionally misguide and misinform you so you need to be savvy enough to avoid them.