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Evaluating the Web

Unlike the library’s collection of online databases, information retrieved using search engines (such as Google) has not been evaluated and/or organized by librarians, or humans for that matter. Anyone can publish on the Web without passing the content through an editor. Pages might be written by an expert on the topic, a journalist, a disgruntled consumer or even a child. There are no standards to ensure accuracy. Web resources are not permanent. Some well-maintained sites are updated with very current information, but other sites may become quickly dated or disappear altogether without much if any notice.

If you are using a Web page as a possible research citation, you should especially consider the following criteria:

Authority

It is often difficult to determine who the author or sponsor of a Web page is, much less their credentials or qualifications.

  • Is the author identified?
    If so, are his/her credentials/qualifications listed?
  • Does the Webpage have a sponsor?
    If so, is the sponsor reputable?
  • Does the Webpage provide information about the author or the sponsor?
    Is there contact information for the author? (e.g., e-mail address, mailing address, phone number)
  • Does the URL contain a .edu, .gov domain? (e.g., http://www.merritt.edu)

Purpose

It is important to determine the goals of the Web page. You can check to see if these are clearly stated in a mission statement or an “About Us” page. This can help you determine if the page is intended to inform, explain, or persuade.

  • What is the purpose or motive for the site? (e.g., educational, commercial, entertainment, promotional)
  • Is the information biased, or is the author presenting more than one side of the argument?
  • Is the page designed to sway opinion?
    Is the purpose of the page clearly identified?
  • Is there a sponsor or advertising on the page?
    If so, does this influence the information?
    Is the site trying to sell you something?
    How easy is it to differentiate advertisement from content?

Currency

The effectiveness of a Web page can sometime be lessened if it becomes out-of-date. If the Web page relies on information such as hyperlinks, directory, or timely information, etc. it should be updated and revised as the information changes.

  • Are dates provided for when the information was written or when the page was last modified or updated?
  • Are the links (if any) up-to-date?

Coverage

Web resources are often presented in a different context than print resources, making it difficult to determine the extent of coverage.

  • What topics are covered?
  • How in-depth does the information go?
  • Does the page offer information not found elsewhere?

“Evaluate content from the Web” by UC Santa Cruz University Library, available under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) 3.0 license.