Criteria for Evaluating Websites

Here are some questions to ask yourself to determine if a website is a quality source of information for your research.

Website Evaluation Questions to Ask

Interpreting the Answers

Is the website somebody's personal page?
- look for a personal name in the url
That's not necessarily a bad thing, but may or may not be appropriate depending on your research.
What type of domain does it come from? Some domains, like .gov, .edu and .org may be better sources of information for your research
Who "published" the web page?
- have you heard of them before?
- do publisher and content match up?
- if there are individual authors on the website is there contact and professional information?
For research purposes you want information straight from the source. For example, it would be better to get information about swine flu from the National Institutes of Health at http:nih.gov/ than to get it from this news site even if they are using information from the NIH: http://abcnews.go.com?Health?SwineFlu/
Is the page current?
- check at the bottom of the page - the last time the page was updated can usually be found there.
- check the dates on content since large governmental and organizational websites often have old or archived materials on their sites
- check links - are they working or are there a lot of dead links?
Are sources documented with citations or links?
- do the citations lead to authoritative work?
- do the links work and lead to relevant resources?
- are there footnotes, references or a bibliography?
Work you find online that is not properly documented and does not come from a reliable source like a government website may simply be opinion, conjecture or worse. It will probably not be acceptable for you to use.
Are there links to other sources about the topic?
- do they indicate bias?
- are they well organized or annnotated?
Many sites include links to other sites they feel are worthwhile. When they represent opposing points of view as well that is an indication that they are fair and balanced.
Why was the website published?
- to inform, give facts and data?
- to sell something?
- to explain or change your mind about something?
- to share?
Since the internet is a public space that anyone can post to, you need to carefully consider the reasons why the website was published (even if you agree with it!) to determine if it will meet your research needs.
Is it possible the website is a satire?
- is it sarcastic, "tongue in cheek", exaggerated or over the top?
Everybody can get fooled sometimes so watch out - a research paper is not the place for this type of mistake. See this for an example.


Click here to download a copy of the website evaluation criteria for future reference.