Evaluating Online Resources

Once you are in your online course and doing work through the web, your instructor may ask you to conduct some research on the web. And since anyone can post anything on the Internet, it is up to you to decide what is worthwhile information, and what is not. If you are curious about who "owns" the webpage that you are looking at, you can look up the name of the web domain at WHOIS.

Here are some tips that might help you assess and evaluate the information that you find online.

Types of web sites

Generally, websites can be divided into the following types:

  • Advocacy
  • Business/marketing
  • News
  • Informational
  • Personal

The type of site can tell you something about the credibility or accuracy of the information it provides.

  • An Informational web page is one whose purpose is to present factual information. The URL (or web address) frequently ends in .edu or .gov. Many of these pages are sponsored by educational institutions or government agencies.
  • An Advocacy web page is one sponsored by an organization attempting to influence public opinion (that is, one trying to sell ideas). The URL (or web address) of the page frequently ends in .org (organization).
  • A Business/Marketing web page is one sponsored by a commercial enterprise (usually trying to promote or sell products). The URL (or web address) of the page frequently ends in .com (commercial).
  • A News web page is one whose primary purpose is to provide extremely current information. The URL (or web address) of the page usually ends in .com (commercial).
  • A Personal web page is one published by an individual who may or may not be affiliated with a larger institution.

Although the intent is a little different for each type of website, essentially the same evaluation criteria apply.

Evaluating Web Sites

Further Information on Evaluating Internet Resources, from Andersen Library

Below is a list of the main things you should think about when evaluating a website.

Authority:

  • Is the person or organization responsible for the content of the page given?
  • Are the author's qualifications clearly stated?
  • Are the purpose and goals of the sponsoring organization given?
  • Is there a statement of organizational approval?
  • Can the legitimacy of the page's sponsor or author be verified?
  • If the material is protected by copyright, is the name of the individual or organizational copyright holder given?

Accuracy:

  • Are sources given for factual or statistical information so they can be verified in another source?
  • Is it clear who has the ultimate responsibility for the accuracy of the content of the material?
  • Is the information free of grammatical, spelling, and other typographical errors? (These kinds of errors not only indicate a lack of quality control, but also can actually produce inaccuracies in information.)

Objectivity:

  • Can you detect some explicit or implicitbias in the presentation of the information?
  • Is the information free of advertising?
  • If there is any advertising on the page, is it clearly separated from the informative content?
  • Does the site contain dates that tell you

    • When the page was first written?
    • When the page was first placed on the web?
    • When the page was last revised? (Is it current, i.e., last 6 months?)
  • Are there any other indications that the material is reviewed and updated regularly?
  • Is statistical information clearly dated?
  • Are links relevant, appropriate, and current (i.e., no "dead" links)?

Coverage:

  • Is there an indication that the page is complete (i.e., not "under construction")?
  • If there is a print equivalent to the web page, is it clear where the complete document is available (i.e., on the web or in print)?
  • Does the site describe the audience for whom it is intended?

Design:

  • Does the website follow good graphic design principles? Is it easy to navigate?
  • How usable is the site? How readable is the site? (white space, font size, etc.)
  • Do the graphics serve a function? Do the graphics interfere with the page downloading?
  • Do icons clearly represent what is intended, or are they labeled?

References:

Adapted from: Alexander, J., & Tate, M. (1996, July). Evaluating web resources. Wolfgram Memorial Library, Widener University, Chester, PA

Grassian, E. (1998, October). Thinking critically about world wide web resources. UCLA College Library.