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Fall 2022 Library Service Updates

Internet Search: Evaluating Web Sources

Evaluating Web Sources: Who, What, When, Where, Why, How

Not all information presented on the Web is researched, subjected to oversight, or suitable for college research. Here are some questions you can ask of your source to determine whether the content is trustworthy or suitable for your research. Identifying the answers to these basic signs of credibility will guide you in looking critically and realistically at your sources.

Not all information presented on the Web is researched, subjected to oversight, or suitable for college research. Here are some questions you can ask of your source to determine whether the content is trustworthy or suitable for your research. Identifying the answers to these basic signs of credibility will guide you in looking critically and realistically at your sources.

Is there an author listed as the creator of the article, page or site? Can you contact them? Do they list their credentials? Find out more information by and about the author by doing a search on the Internet with the author’s name. You could also search within the library’s databases to look for other articles by or about the author. An article is more reliable and credible if an author is identified. Not all credible sources of information have to have a specific author listed; for instance, a basic information page about an organization or document issued from a government agency. However, scholarly content is always authored and researched.

Who owns the site and are they reputable? If the site owner is not visible, truncate parts of the URL (web address) to go back to main parts of the site.  For example, this article on emotional intelligence at <https://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/the-emotional-intelligence-deficit-how-it-holds-back-so-many-professionals/> is hosted at the The Wharton School (business college) at the University of Pennsylvania at <www.wharton.upenn.edu>.  If you cannot tell very much from the site owner by their home page or web address, you can try a WHOIS database search for information about the site owner.

Similar to the question, "Who Wrote It?", the credibility of information is linked to the entity that posted the information.  For example, if a site or publisher posts a medical article about the benefits of a certain medication, but also sells that medication, you might question if they are offering the information to sell more products or can be trusted to conduct unbiased medical research.  You might still be able to use the webpage article in your research, but will need to find other confirming sources.

Is this site listed in a subject directory? Take a look the OCC Libraries Research Guides , Austin Community College's Research Guides, or the Library of Congress Virtual Reference Shelf.  Do other sites link to the article, website or author's other publications?  You can check for a scholarly article's usage by going to Google Scholar.  Search for the article you are evaluating and then click on "Cited by #."  This will allow you to evaluate your scholarly article sources based on it's impact with other scholars.

Be wary of:

  • Offensive language or photos.
  • Sponsored ads.
  • Poor design of the site.
  • Required fees or registration, except for scholarly journals and journal sites.
  • No identification of sources used or cited.
  • Lack of identification of the author, site owner, or contact information for the author or owner.

 

Is there a publication date given? Often a page may have been updated even if the information included on the page was not. Look for dates associated with the publication of the information or article.  This is particularly important with subject areas in which currency of information is critical (medicine, nursing, technology, etc).

While this is no longer a hard and fast rule, some Internet domains provide higher quality information than others. Organizational (org), governmental (gov) or educational sites (edu) will have more oversight in the content hosted.  Is the page or site part of a blog, discussion forum, or other site providing user opinions rather than scholarly analysis?

What are their intentions? Is the purpose to give a balanced and researched view of a topic, inform, educate, persuade, or train? Is the purpose to entertain, sell, misinform, sensationalize, promote a certain bias agenda or fictionalize? Is the content opinion, personal narrative, verifiable fact, or researched information?

Is the content from the source appropriate for your assignment?  Is the article long enough for your informational needs? Are you being asked for scholarly analysis, factual reporting of events, evidence for a research claim, statistics, or general information?  Make sure the reading level, sources, and information are all suitable for your paper or project.

This guide was adapted from the McLennan Community College Searching the Internet guide with permission.

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