Critical Evaluation Checklist for Internet Websites

The checklist provides five basic aspects of a Web page that should be evaluated before the information is used for academic purposes.

Author

  • Is an organization or person identified as the author?
  • What are the author's credentials?
  • What is the sponsoring site/URL (.com, .gov, .edu, etc.)?
  • Is the author affiliated other organizations?

Purpose

  • Is the purpose of this page to inform?
  • To explain?
  • To sell or persuade?
  • To entertain?

Accuracy

  • Can you verify this data in another source?
  • Has anyone besides the author reviewed or refereed this page?
  • What point-of-view or bias is evident in this page?
  • Where does this information come from?
  • Are references given?

Currency

  • When was this page created?
  • When was it updated or revised?
  • Is timeliness important for this information topic?

Audience

  • Who is the intended audience for this page?
  •  Is this audience relevant to my research topic?



If you wish to read more on this topic, the following essay discusses the evaluation of books, journals and magazines since the invention of the printing press.

Evaluating Information

The old adage, "Don't believe everything you read" holds true in every form of publication.   Just because something is published in a book or on a sharp Web page does not necessarily mean it's true and accurate.   Being able to assess the truth of information is a necessary skill.

"You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32, New International Version).

Print Publishing

The investment required to print and distribute books once limited print publication to works funded and marketed by commercial publishers.   Publishers faced expensive lawsuits if they distributed false or slanderous information.  

Therefore, publishers served as gatekeepers, refusing to publish books or articles that did not meet editorial standards for accuracy.   Publishing houses established rigourous editorial or review processes to keep authors honest and accurate.   As a consequence, it was an accomplishment when an author had a book or article published.

To this day the publishing industry does a fairly good job of regulating itself.   Even so, caution should be exercised when evaluating information from printed sources.   There are publishers who have built a reputation for printing "sensational" novels, conspiracy theories or supermarket tabloids.   And vanity publishing (also known as "self publishing") has become cheap enough that a person can print a book for a few hundred dollars.   The following seven questions allow a reader to determine if a printed source is likely to be useful in an academic environment:

  1. Do references and citations give credit to prior research?
    An academic work derives its credibility by building upon the work of earlier experts or thinkers.
  2. Is the book or journal title common in university libraries?
    If academic libraries purchase the book and public libraries do not, this indicates it is written for an academic audience.
  3. Is the book or journal indexed in library databases?
    While this does not validate the content, the appearance of book reviews or article indexing in academic databases implies that the material is scholarly.
  4. Is the book or article written by an expert whose work is referenced in textbooks or other articles?
    Scholarly books and articles normally list an author's academic credentials and any academic affiliation.
  5. When was the book or article published?
    In technology fields such as nursing, a five-year-old book may be obsolete, while literatary criticism may be valid for generations.
  6. Is the publisher known for academic publications?
    If a publisher has an expertise in editing and distributing to a specialized market, they probably stand behind the accuracy of anything they publish on the subject.
  7. Do research methods and evidence used by the author seem consistent with other reading you have done?
    If the book contradicts your other readings, suspect the information within it.

Web Pages

In the United States there is very little governmental editing or censorship of what is posted on the web.   In the absence of regulation, pages which are outdated, unsupported, or pranks abound on the Internet.   Individuals promoting conspiracy theories and illicit commercial ventures generally have a website.   For these reasons, Web page content should be assessed to verify it's suitablity for academic use.

The following ten questions have been prepared to determine if a Web site may be used in an university environment.   If many questions on this list cannot be answered to your satisfaction, or cannot be answered at all, you may want avoid using the page as a source of information.

  1. Does the Web page provide references and citations which give credit to the sources of information that were consulted?
    An academic work derives its credibility by building upon the work of earlier experts or thinkers.
  2. Is there an organization or individual author who is responsible for the Web page? If there is an individual author, does this person have credentials or an affiliation with a recognized institution?
    Either an organization or a scholar affiliated with a university or major corporation will take great pains to only publish truthful work, as their reputation for knowledge and accuracy is fundamental to their success.
  3. Does the web address have a suffix (domain) of .gov or .edu?
    These two domain file extensions are limited to United States governmental bodies and higher education institutions, and information posted on such sites is almost always accurate.   The Web pages for organizational and company sites (.org and .com) are open to almost any special interest, and must be evaluated based on the reputation of the organization or company.
  4. When was the site created or last updated?
    Many reputable Web pages do not provide dates, or only provide the range of dates when the pages were created. However, if you require current information, look for pages displaying an appropriate edit or creation date.
  5. Can you determine whether the purpose of the page is: (1) to provide information; (2) to promote beliefs or a community; (3) to sell a product or service, or (4) to entertain?
    Only the first category is likely to be committed to truth, acknowledging differing viewpoints and examining foundational assumptions.
  6. Do the methods and evidence cited by the author seem consistent with other reading you have done?
    If the research method or results are unusual, the information may be bogus.
  7. Is the website internally accurate, or is it marred by errors in spelling, grammar or math?
    If the Web site is going to be used to support your academic paper, the Web site should show the attention to detail that marks an educated person.
  8. Can the audience of the page be readily determined?
    Pages for high school students are easy to understand, but should not be cited in an academic paper.
  9. Do many other Web pages refer to this Web page for support?
    While links do not validate the content, if a tool such as Alexa.com shows hundreds of links to a site, it indicates other Web page creators have found the page noteworthy.
  10. Does the content appear to be plagiarized?
    There are many Web sites that copy entire articles from Wikipedia or other Web pages without providing any credit to the orginal source.

Tip: If you have spent an hour in research and have been unable to locate reliable information, phone the OCLS team at 800-521-1848.   A librarian can walk you through a database to find articles or books that are appropriate for your level of study.

References

Beck, S. E. (2009). Evaluation criteria. Retrieved from New Mexico State University Library website: http://lib.nmsu.edu/instruction/evalcrit.html

Branham, C. (1998). A student's guide to WWW research: Web searching, Web page evaluation, and research strategies. Retrieved from Saint Louis University, Department of English website: http://www.slu.edu/colleges/AS/ENG/cai/research

Head, A. J., & Eisenberg, M. B. (2010). Truth be told: How college students evaluate and use information in the digital age (Project Information Literacy Progress Report). Retrieved from http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED535166.pdf

Purdue University. (2010). Evaluating information sources. Retrieved from http://gemini.lib.purdue.edu/core/files/evaluating4.html

Virginia Tech University Libraries. (2013). Evaluating Internet information. Evaluating webpages for research. Retrieved from http://www.lib.vt.edu/instruct/evaluate


© 2008-2013
Contact OCLS: 800-521-1848 | www2.indwes.edu/ocls
Hours: Mon. 8-8 | Tue. 8-8 | Wed. 8-8 | Thu. 8-8 | Fri. 8-5 | Sat. 9:30-2
    Address: Off Campus Library Services - Jackson Library, Indiana Wesleyan University, 4201 South Washington, Marion, IN, U.S.A. 46953