How to evaluate website content

How do you tell when information you find on the internet is reliable? Advice is provided to help you evaluate web content and decide if it's suitable for your research and study purposes .

Using the internet for research

Before using information you find on the internet for assignments and research, it is important to judge its accuracy and to establish that the information comes from a reliable and appropriate source.

Consider the following criteria and ask yourself the following questions:

Audience

  • Who is the website’s intended audience? Academics? The general public? School children?
  • Does it appropriately address the target audience?
  • Is it relevant for your assignment or research?

Authority

  • Is the author identified? If the author has chosen to remain anonymous, ask yourself 'why?'
  • Is the author a person you recognise as an expert in his field?
  • If not, is there enough information provided to establish the author’s credibility?
  • Is she qualified to write about the subject?
  • Can you find references to her elsewhere?
  • Is the author affiliated to an academic institution or credible organisation?

If the information is part of a journal or other online publication, you should try to establish the authority of that publication:

  • Is the name of the publication obvious?
  • Are contact details and ‘about’ information provided?
  • Do you recognise the name of the publisher?
  • Does it look like a professional publication?
  • Is there associated branding?
  • Is the publication referenced elsewhere?

Accuracy

  • Is it free from spelling errors?
  • Is the text well-written and grammatically correct?
  • Has the content been through an editing process or been peer reviewed?
  • Has the author included a bibliography?
  • Are the sources cited reliable and can they be verified elsewhere?
  • Are research methodologies adequately explained?

Objectivity

  • Does the author present objective arguments or make it clear when he is expressing biased opinions?
  • Are other points of view explored?
  • Is it a personal website? Does it express personal opinions?
  • Is the website part of a commercial organisation, a political party or an organisation with a specific agenda? If yes, question the motives for publishing the information.
  • Does the website promote a biased viewpoint?

Currency

  • Can you tell when the information was published?
  • Is the information up to date?
  • How frequently is the website updated?
  • Are the links up to date and working?

A good website will show when it was ‘last updated’ or give a clear indication of the timeliness of the information. Working links indicate the website is being maintained and updated regularly.

The URL

Look at the URL (web address) of the website. The domain name can help you establish if the information has been published by a credible source.

For example:

Domain Published by
.ac.uka UK university
.eduan American university
.gov.uk or scotland.gov.ukthe UK or Scottish government
.nhs.uk or .scot.nhs.ukthe NHS or the NHS in Scotland

You still need to apply the same criteria mentioned above to establish reliability, and don’t forget to check the information is up to date.

Reliable sources

The Library provides access to a variety of reliable online resources. Key places to start your search for academic material online include:

Open access academic repositories:

Further help

Online tutorial

To help you improve your internet research skills and find reliable and relevant information online an online tutorial is available:


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