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Evaluating Websites

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Criteria for finding quality sites
When you use a search engine, guide, or directory to find websites related to your research topic, how do you know that what you find is useful and reliable?  Learn to critically evaluate a website, you'll be able to make that determination.  In this guide, we'll give you some criteria you can use to find reliable, high quality information on the open web.

In evaluating web resources, there are five questions you should try to answer:

Accuracy Is the information factual and accurate?

Authority Is it clear who the author is?

Content/Objectivity What is the purpose of the page or site?

Currency How recent is the information? Can you tell when the information was first created or last updated? 

Documentation/Coverage Does the page verify or document it's claims?

Accuracy: Are the facts accurate?
Is the source of the information clearly stated?
Is the information accurate when checked against other resources?
Is the information reliable and error-free? What about typos, grammatical mistakes, and spelling errors?
Is there evidence of potential bias or a specific agenda from the author?

Remember: anyone can publish anything on the web!
Authority: Who is the author?
Who is sponsoring the web page?
Is it clear who the author is?
Are the credentials of the author clearly stated?
Is the author affiliated with any particular organizations or institutions?
Does the author have a bias?
Is there contact information for the author(s), either email or snail mail?

Look at the domain: .edu, .com, .org, .net, .gov
Content/Objectivity: What is the purpose?
Is the web page designed to inform, sell, or persuade?
Does it contribute to the literature in the field?
Are the references cited fully?
Can the results be verified (or refuted!) through secondary sources like library reference sources?

If the goals of the sponsors/authors aren’t clearly stated, then you should question the credibility of the site.
Currency: Is the information current?
Is the publication date clearly stated?
When was the page last revised?
Is the page regularly maintained and updated?
How reliable are the links?
Are the links up-to-date and usable?

Even if a date is provided, it may have various meanings. It may indicate:
- when the material was first written
- when the material was first placed on the web
- when the material was last revised
Documentation/Coverage: Can it be verified?
Does the author of the web page explain where the information was obtained?
Does the site claim to provide the results of scholarly research?
Are there sufficient references or links provided to other works?
Does the web page contain a bibliography or list of sources used?

Web coverage often differs from print coverage, and it’s often difficult to determine the extent of coverage for websites.