Friday, December 1, 2006

Evaluating Web Pages

Evaluating Web Pages for Credibility


Who wrote the page?

Look for the author's name near the top or the bottom of the page. If you can't find a name, look for a copyright credit (©) or link to an organization.

What are the author's credentials?

Look for biographical information or the author's affiliations (university department, organization, corporate title, etc.).

Can you verify the author's credentials? Could the credentials be made up?

Anyone who has visited a chat room knows that people don't always identify themselves accurately.

Did the author include contact information?

Look for an email link, address, or phone number for the author. A responsible author should give you the means to contact him/her.

Whose web site is this?What organization is sponsoring the web page?

Look at the domain (.com, .edu, .org, etc.).

Look for an "about this site" link.

Also look for a tilde (~) in the URL, which usually identifies a personal directory on a web site.

Be careful of a web page that has a tilde in its URL.

Internet service provider sites (AOL, Mindspring, MSN, etc.) and online community sites (GeoCities, Tripod, Angelfire, etc.) feature personal pages. Be careful of web pages from those sites, too.

Example of the need to verifythe author's credentials

Example of the need to considerwho's sponsoring the site

Purpose/intended audience

What is the purpose of the page? Why did the author create it?

The purpose could be advertising, advocacy, news, entertainment, opinion, fandom, scholarship, satire, etc.

Some pages have more than one purpose. For example, provides free business information but also encourages you to subscribe to the Wall Street Journal or other Dow Jones products.

Who is the target audience?

academic researchers? kids? buyers of competitors' products? trekkers? political extremists?

Look at reading level of the page: is it easy to read or challenging? Does it assume previous knowledge of the subject?

Consider the design of the web page: are there banner ads and animated GIF's, or does the page present a lot of text with little decoration?

Example of the need to consider the intended audience, especially if you are researching a topic like ethnic stereotypes in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.


Is there a date at the top or bottom of the page?

But note: a recent date doesn't necessarily mean the information is current. The content might be years out of date even if the given date is recent. (The last update of the page might have consisted of someone changing an email address or fixing a typo.)

Is the information up-to-date?

This takes a little more time to determine. Compare the information on the web page to information available through other sources. Broken links are one measure of an out-of-date page.

In general, information for science, technology, and business ages quickly. Information in the humanities and social sciences ages less quickly. However, old information can still be perfectly valid.

Example of the need tocheck for currency

Objectivity v. bias

Is the author being objective or biased?

Biased information is not necessarily "bad", but you must take the bias into account when interpreting or using the information given.

Look at the facts the author provides, and the facts the author doesn't provide.

Are the facts accurately and completely cited?

Is the author fair, balanced, and moderate in his or her views, or is the author overly emotional or extreme?

Based on the author's authority, try to identify any conflict of interest.

Determine if the advertising is clearly separated from the objective information on the page.

Example of the blurring of advertising and objective information


Does the author support the information he or she uses?

Look for links or citations to sources. Some academic web pages include bibliographies.

Is the support respectable?

Does the page cite well-known sources or authorities?

Does the page cite a variety of sources?

Do other pages on the same topic cite some of the same sources?

The web page in question should have a mix of internal links (links to web pages on the same site or by the same author) and external links (links to other sources or experts).

If a web page makes it hard for you to check the support, be suspicious.

Example of the need to check the cited sources

Is the web the right place to do your research?

Some kinds of information are not available on the free web. Also, some kinds of information are easier to find using library resources.


literary criticism (begin with a literature database like the MLA Bibliography or the Literature Resource Center.)

industry analysis (a business database like S&P NetAdvantage makes it simple to find detailed, authoritative reports on industries.)

public opinion polls (while there are some good sources for polls on the web for free, the best way to begin is using the polls and public opinion section of Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe.)

So don't overlook library resources, whether online (like databases and ejournals) or in print.

Cramer, Steven. "Part 6: Evaluating Sources, Web Pages." Guide to Library Research. 14 July 2003. Duke Unisversity. 1 Nov 2006 .