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Evaluating Information Sources  

Last Updated: Oct 26, 2010 URL: http://libguides.williamwoods.edu/content.php?pid=160862 Print Guide RSS Updates
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Evaluation Criteria

Below is a detailed list of general criteria that can be used to evaluate any type of information- books, periodicals, or Web sites. Included in this list are general questions to ask, techniques for conducting evaluation, and specific items to consider when evaluating Web sites.

Accuracy or Credibility

  • Is the information provided based on proven facts?
  • Is it published in a scholarly or peer-reviewed publication?
  • Have you found similar information in a scholarly or peer-reviewed publication?

Author Authority

Web pages are all created for a specific purpose by a person, agency, or other sponsor. This purpose may be to entertain, to sell you something, to persuade you, or to inform or explain something to you. When evaluating Web sites, look for an author who claims accountability and responsibility for the content. Just because the author includes his or her email address or contact information does not mean he or she is qualified to write on that topic. In other words, this is not sufficient for assessing the author's credentials. However, if that's all you have, email the author and ask politely for more information about him or her. If you cannot locate an author's credentials, or if they are questionable, look closely at sources or documentation.

One way to find information on the author of a Web site is to look for links with titles such as "About Us" or "Background". If you cannot find any links like these, you can often find this kind of information by truncating the URL. In the top Location Box, delete the end characters of the URL stopping just before each / (leave the slash). Press enter to see if you can see more about the author or the origins/nature of the site providing the page. Continue this process, one slash (/) at a time, until you reach the first single / which is preceded by the domain name portion. This is the page's server or "publisher."

  • Who is the author?
  • Is she or he affiliated with a reputable university or organization?
  • What is the author's educational background or experience?
  • What is their area of expertise?
  • Has the author published in scholarly or peer reviewed publications?
  • Does the author/Web Master provide any information, other than contact information?

Quality of the Publication

  • Is it scholarly or peer-reviewed?

Scope and Coverage

Some resources will provide comprehensive coverage of a topic, while others may only cover a small piece, or one side of an issue. While all have their merit, it is a good idea to try and find information that covers all sides of the story.

  • Is the coverage basic or comprehensive?
  • Is there an "About Us" link that explains subject coverage?

Relevance

  • Does the information covered meet your information needs?
  • How relevant is it to your research interests?

Currency

Currency may or may not be important to your topic. How recent the information needs to be will depend on your topic. When examining Web sites, keep in mind whether you want current information, information that was posted to the Web site near the time of the event you are investigating, or whether you are just interested in a page that is continually updated.

  • When was the information published?
  • When was the Web site last updated?
  • Is timeliness important to your information need?

Objectivity or Bias

Usually, a quality Web site will offer links to other pages or sites on the same topic. Web pages that offer links to sites that have opposing viewpoints as well as to sites that are in agreement with them are more likely to be unbiased than pages that offer only one view. Always look for bias, ESPECIALLY if you agree with something!
  • How objective or biased is the information?
  • What do you know about who is publishing this information?
  • Is there a political, social or commercial agenda?
  • Does the information try to inform or persuade?
  • How balanced is the presentation on opposing perspectives?
  • What is the tone of language used (angry, sarcastic, balanced, educated)?

Sources or Documentation

In scholarly sources, the credibility of the work is often demonstrated through the use of bibliographies or footnotes. These reveal the sources used by the author. Think about the scholarly level that is appropriate for your topic. When evaluating Web pages, examine the links provided to other Web sites: if they don't work or link to weak pages, this calls to question the site's credibility. Using these types of pages in your own reference list will not strengthen the credibility of your own paper.
  • Is there a list of references or works cited? What is the quality of these references?
  • If there are links to other Web pages, do the links work? Are they to reliable sources?
  • If there are links to other pages, are the links well chosen? Are they evaluated or annotated?
  • If there are links to other pages, do they represent other viewpoints, or do they present bias?
  • Is there information provided to support statements of fact?
  • Can you contact the author or Web Master to ask for, and receive, the sources used?

Intended Audience

  • Who was the piece written for?

Presentation

  • How well designed is the Web site?
  • Is the information clearly focused?
  • How easy to use is the information?
  • How easy is it to find information within the publication or Web site?
  • Are the bibliographic references and links accurate, current, credible and relevant?
  • Are the Contact addresses for the author(s) and Web Master(s) available from the site?

Domain/URL

What type of domain does the site come from? Think about which site will be most appropriate for your topic.

  • .com (commercial site)
  • .edu (educational site)
  • .gov (governmental site)
  • .org (organizational site, some are non-profits)

Look at the URL. Is it a personal homepage? If so, it will be necessary to investigate the author's qualifications.

 
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