When you’re surfing the web with a purpose, such as looking for citations for a school paper or for information on a medical condition, then you need to evaluate the website to make sure that the information you’ve found is relevant and trustworthy.
Whenever you need to evaluation a website, the following questions will help you decide whether or not it’s good source for your topic:
- Who created it? Anyone can make a web page or misrepresent whom they are. You could make a web page that said you were a fictional character or a celebrity, and no one would stop you from putting it on the web.Websites that belong to certain individuals or companies have some things in common:
- Contact or About Us. There’s a way to contact the people responsible for the site; usually an e-mail address, sometimes a phone number and street address.
- Uniformity. Pages within the website look similar. Generally all pages will have the same background color.
- All pages lead to Home. Pages within the website easily navigate back to the home page, and a menu offers links to other pages on the site.
- Spell check. There are no spelling or grammar errors.
If you’re going to use information from a website for a college paper or for legal or medical reasons, consider searching for links from a website that you already know has good information.
Often, libraries, universities, and museums have links on their sites to other sites that they have already evaluated for quality and accuracy. The Heights Library Research Page is a good place to start.
- When was the website last updated? Look for a date near the top or bottom of the site’s home page.If a website has been updated recently, that means someone’s paying attention to the site, making sure links still work and possibly changing parts of it to reflect more recent news or research.In some cases, it’s not necessary for a website to update recently for its information to be relevant. For instance, if a website is devoted to Renaissance poetry or ancient Roman historical texts, the content isn’t going to change, so it’s not necessary for it to update frequently.
- Is it clear what the website is about? You should be able to tell why a website exists, and what information it’s trying to provide. If the purpose of the website is confusing or unclear, that’s a telltale sign that you should look for a different site.
- Does the site contain lots of ads? Ads can be long, rectangular banners at the top or bottom of the screen, or sometimes they are on the left or right side of the screen. It’s not always easy to recognize all the ads on a page; sometimes ads will look like messages from your computer, or just like part of the website that you’re looking at. Be aware that if a website has lots of ads, you may want to think twice about whether the information on it is unbiased. Note: some valuable sites do contain advertising to help support their existence on the web.
- Is it easy to find the information you need? If it’s difficult to find the desired information, and especially if it seems that information from one part of the website contradicts another part, you may want to try another site.
If you can’t seem to find anything on your topic, you may want to look elsewhere: in books, magazines, or newspapers.
Finally, remember that you can always ask a reference librarian for help searching for whatever information you need.Back to Evaluating Websites >>