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Evaluating Websites

The reality of looking for "the answer"

There are two steps to finding the information you need. The first is to find information. The second is to evaluate whether that information is what you want.

It is usually easier to find any information than to find the information that you want. The information that you want has to be both reliable and relevant. Only those who need the information can determine whether the information is relevant. The cost of pencils is relevant if you are buying pencils, but not if you are looking for the capital of Australia. Luckily, the skills used to determine whether information is reliable are more universal. These skills can be used with slight modifications for information searches whether you are looking for information for a school paper, buying a car, deciding which allergy medication to use, or whether to see a specific movie.

Evaluating the reliability of information

What information can you find about the author? What information can you find about the article or page? What information can you find about the website and/or domain? How is the website designed and and how often is it updated? What can you find out about security, privacy, and terms of use?

Always do a reality check

No resource is guaranteed to always be 100% accurate. People make mistakes (typos, etc). There have been occasions when a journalist or other source of information has intentionally misled others. In other cases information becomes outdated or, particularly in the sciences, experts find new information that reveals that their older theory was inaccurate. Thus, it is important that users do a reality check. If the information does not look right it is important to verify it in another source. The capital of France is Paris and it will not become Venice because a source, no matter how usually reliable, claims that the capital is Venice.

About these evaluation suggestions

I have seen numerous articles and websites about evaluating information. As they have slight differences, I recommend looking at multiple ones. It is particularly helpful if you can find one focused on your subject area.

The evaluation tips listed above are focused on websites. However they can be adapted to apply to print material. Please remember that evaluating print material is as important as evaluating material on the internet.

The evaluation tips are intended as a guide. If you are looking for information for a school assignment, job, or another person you should follow the instructions of the person who asked you to find the information and direct any questions to them. While evaluation is always important, some parts of this guide are less relevant when you are looking at personal websites or fansites for personal enjoyment.

When in doubt, ask a librarian. Many libraries have online help either using e-mail or chat. Check your library website. You can also go to the library. While there is a lot of information online sometimes the best sources are in a physical library.

The Oxford Dictionary of the Current English Language, Third Edition defines reliable as, "able to be relied on", an unhelpful definition for our purposes, and reliance as "dependence on or trust in someone or something" (p. 761). For the purpose of this page and the pathfinders, reliable is defined as, "a reasonable assumption that one can have confidence in the information".

Links to other websites with help in evaluating information

UCLA College Library: Thinking Critically about WWW Resources
This page focuses on resources on the internet. UCLA also has a page for subject specific resources here.

The WWW Virtual Library: Evaluating Information
If you need additional information about evaluating material this directory includes links to resources about both general evaluation of material and evaluating specific material.

Soanes, C. (Ed). (2001) The Oxford Dictionary of the Current English Language, 3rd Ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.