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The Web as a Research Tool : Evaluation Criteria

The World Wide Web (WWW) is a wonderful source of research and entertainment - the problem lies in separating the two. The quality of sources varies tremendously, and since the Internet is not governed, there is no built-in quality control. Here are some criteria to help you evaluate Web resources.

1.  IDENTIFY THE TYPE OF WEB SITE

Is It?
  • Entertainment
  • Business/Commercial
  • Reference/Informational    
  • News
  • Advocacy
  • Personal Page

URLs ending with:
 .com   Business/Commercial  .mil    Military
 .edu Educational Institution  .net  Various Types of Networks
 .gov Government-sponsored              .org  Nonprofit Organization

2.  AUTHORITY/AUTHOR

a. Who is the "author"? Is it clear what sponsoring body  (organization, company) or individual is responsible for the site?

b. Does the "author" provide e-mail or a contact address/telephone number?

c. Can you verify if the site is "official," actually sponsored/sanctioned by an organization or company?

d. What are the "author's" qualifications/credentials?

e. Is there a way to verify the legitimacy of this organization/company or individual?

3.  ACCURACY

a. Are the sources for factual information listed so they can be verified in another source?

b. How does this information compare with other sources of information on this topic?

c. Is the information free of grammatical, spelling and other typographical errors?

4.  OBJECTIVITY

a. Where is the document published? Check the URL domain (.edu, .com, .mil, .gov, .net).

b. Has the author or organization clearly stated the goals and/or aims of the site?

c. Is there a clear distinction between advertising, opinion, and factual information?

d. For a business/commercial site, is it clear what the company's motivation is?

e. For a personal homepage or organization, are any biases or points of view clearly stated or implied?

5.  CURRENCY

a. Are there any dates on the page to indicate the following?

b. How current are the links? Are there any dead links on the page?

c. Is any of the information on the page outdated?

6.  CONTENT

a. Does the page meet your research needs or purpose?

b. Is there an indication that the site is complete and not still under construction?

c. If there is a print equivalent, is it clear if the web version is more or less extensive than the print?

d. Is the subject adequately covered?

e. If other sources are quoted, is the information accurately cited?

7.  AESTHETICS/USABILITY

a. Appearance - Is it visually appealing? Is there an appropriate balance between text and images? Is the text large enough to read?

b. Navigation - Is it easy to move around the website? Can you easily find what you are looking for? Is there an easy way to return to the homepage?

c. Speed - Do the pages load in an acceptable amount of time? If the website is image heavy, does it offer a text-only function?

d. If the website requires special plug-ins, are you directed to the appropriate place to download them?


For More Information, see:
Smith, Alastair G. "Testing the Surf: Criteria for Evaluating Internet Information Resources."
The Public-Access Computer Systems Review 8, no. 3 (1997)  [ http://info.lib.uh.edu/pr/v8/n3/smit8n3.html ]

"Evaluating Web Pages" (a tutorial module developed by the UC Berkeley Library)
[ http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/TeachingLib/Guides/Internet/Evaluate.html ]

"The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, or Why It's a Good Idea to Evaluate Web Sources" (Institute for Technology-Assisted Learning, at the New Mexico State University)
[ http://lib.nmsu.edu/instruction/eval.html ]


Copyright 1999 Bailey/Howe Library Reference. All rights reserved.
Questions and comments can be addressed to: Patricia Mardeusz
Last updated: September 5, 2007