Evaluation Rules of Thumb
- Do not assume that because something has been published in a book, periodical, or website that it is a reputable, reliable source.
- You must make a deliberate decision about the relevance and quality of the information especially if you are evaluating an Internet site. Here is a Web evaluation checklist that can help guide you in selecting a good site.
Who authored (wrote) the site?
How to find out:
- Look for an “About” or “More about the Author” link at the top, bottom or sidebar of the web page.
- Some pages will have a corporate author rather than a single person as an author.
If no information about author(s) of the page is provided, be suspicious.
Questions to ask about the author:
- Does the author provide his/her credentials?
- What type of expertise does s/he have on the subject s/he is writing about?
- Does s/he indicate what his/her education is?
- Does s/he share what type of experience s/he has?
- Should you trust his/her knowledge of the subject?
- Try “Googling” the author’s name.
- What kind of websites are associated with your author’s name?
- Is s/he affiliated with any educational institutions?
- Do commercial sites come up?
- Do the websites associated with the author give you any clues to particular biases the author might have?
- “Google” with caution – remember that sometimes more than one person can share the same name.
Who published the site?
How to find out:
- Look at the domain name of the website to learn who is hosting the site. For instance, the Lee College Library website is: http://www.lee.edu/library/. The domain name is “lee.edu”. That tells you that the library’s website is hosted by Lee College. Do a search on the domain name at http://www.whois.sc/. This site provides information about the owners of registered domain names.
- Check the organization’s main website, if it has one. Determine:
- What is the organization’s main purpose?
- Is it educational?
- Is it a reputable organization?
- Don’t ignore the top-level domain name (the three-letter part that comes after the “.”). This is often (but not always) descriptive of what type of entity hosts the website. Keep in mind that it is possible for sites to obtain suffixes that are misleading.
- .edu = educational
- .com = commercial
- .mil = military
- .gov = government
- .org = nonprofit
What is the main purpose of the site? Why did the author write it and the publisher post it?
- to sell a product?
- as a personal hobby?
- as a public service?
- to further scholarship on a topic?
- to provide general information on a topic?
- to persuade you of a particular point of view?
Is the website …
- cluttered with advertising?
- professionally designed?
- trying to persuade you to buy something?
Is the intended audience …
- scholars or the general public?
- which age group?
- from a particular geographic area?
- members of a particular profession or with specific training?
What is the quality of information provided on the website?
- When was the website first published? Is it regularly updated? Check for dates at the bottom of each page on the site. Different publication dates will be acceptable depending on which type of information you are looking for. If you are looking for statistics, information on current events, or information in fields like science, technology or healthcare, you probably need the most up-to-date information available. If you are looking for information that doesn’t change, such as Mark Twain’s date of birth or who led the Union Army in the Civil War, it may not matter as much if the website is a little older as long as it is published/authored by reputable source.
- Just as with print resources, websites that cite their sources are considered more reliable. This shows that the author has done his/her homework and is familiar with scholarship in the field.
- Links on the site:
- Are links on the site to reputable sites? If the author references online material, does s/he provide links to material referenced?
- Links to the site:
- Is the website being cited by others? Is it being linked by reputable or well-known sites? To find out:
- Got to Google and in the search box, type “link:[your website URL]” with no space after the colon.
- For example, to learn who links to the Lee College Library website, you would type this: “link:www.lee.edu/library”
How does it all add up?
- Compare the information you’ve gathered about your website to your information needs. Does this website provide an appropriateness of fit (not all websites will work for all purposes). A website that is fine for finding general information on a disease may not work for a nursing student’s paper.
- If you are in doubt, ask your instructor or a librarian for help.
Last updated 6/19/2012