How to Evaluate Web Resources

The Internet has given writers in all fields the ability to conduct research more quickly, and more thoroughly, than ever before. Whether they're writing hosting reviews, tapping out novels, or blogging like a rockstar, nearly everyone who writes now relies in some part on the Internet for information. Yet with almost 640 terabytes of data being transferred every single minute—much of it poorly sourced—it can be difficult to discern, at first blush, the accuracy of information found on the Web, as well as the authority of its resources.

Life online has undoubtedly changed the procedures used to gather and assess information forever. But when it comes to well-written and effective content, the need for correct information, from reliable and authoritative resources, remains the same. Even in the cut-and-paste age of Wikipedia, evaluating sources based on their authority, relevance, and accuracy is still a requirement for serious writers. Bad sources, like bad seeds, can bear bitter fruit for those who use them.

Fortunately, the oceans of data and globe-spanning inter-connectivity of the Internet make verifying sources easier than ever as well. In addition to the time-honored practices of using primary sources, identifying their authors, and verifying the accuracy of the information they provide, writers can use additional tools to keep their sources credible and authoritative. Some, such as Grammarly's Plagiarism Checker, can be used to make sure the content being citing is original. Other tools, such as the Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue University, provide in-depth advice and examples for evaluating sources both on and off the Web.

The future of written communication is surely set not in stone, but in the glowing ether of cyberspace. Yet as long as humans continue to rely on the written word for the exchange of information, wisdom, and insight, effective and compelling writing will demand sources that are credible, authoritative, and accurate.

A Visual Guide to Evaluating Sources on the Web:

evaluating web resources

Evaluating Web Resources: A 60 Second Guide

The Internet can be a very helpful tool when writing a paper or article. However, since everyone has access to publishing content on the Internet you need to use it with caution. Use this guide to help you evaluate a site or post before citing it as a source.

Check the URL

  • Personal Pages:
    • Not always reliable, try to learn more about the author.
    • URL usually includes the person's name.
      • If their name isn't the site name, it will likely be in the URL after a tilde or percentage sign.
  • Type of Domain:
    • The domain type should match the content type.
      • .com = commerical
      • .edu = educational
      • .mil = military
      • .gov = government
      • .org = nonprofit
  • Who Published It?
    • Find the agency or person that published the article
    • Reliable publisher = reliable content and authors
    • Look at the first part of the URL between http:// and the first /.

Who Wrote It?

Find out who is accountable for the information.

  • Find the authoer/organization responsible for the content.
  • Look for a link or About Me/About Us/Background page that will tell you more about them
  • Look for info on their education and experience
  • Evaluate what you know about them and decide if you believe they are qualified to write about the topic.

Timeliness

An outdated source is not always credible.

  • Current topics: publishing dates are important
  • Outdated topics: date should be near the time the content became known.

Sources

Look at how sources are cited and what type of source is used.

  • Scholarly content should always have source info, and should not be an opinion piece.
  • Check the sources for reliability and workability.
  • If the content is reproduced from another source, go to the original source to ensure it has not been altered.

Links to the Site

Links from other reliable sites shows credibility

  • If they are the only one linking to the site (from other parts of their site) then it may not be reliable.
  • Find out who is linking to them:
    • Type URL into search box on Alexa.com. Click on "Get Details". Learn about site's traffic info, who is linking to them and other details.
  • Find Related Sites
    • Type the link into Google search box. Paste the URL directly after the colon, no spaces. Difference search engines may have different results so try more than one. If you don't see any links, shorten the URL.

Overall Evaluation

Once you have reviewed all of this info, you can decide whether you believe the source to be credible.

  • Since the Internet is open to everyone, remember that you may be looking at false info or opinions instead of fact.
  • If you're unsure, go to a reference desk in the library or ask your instructor for advice.

Sources

Further Resources: