Five Basic Criteria
With its growing accessibility, the Internet
has becomes a vital source for research. It is convenient to use and the
information contained on the Internet is plentiful. However, not all of
that information is accurate or even credible.
When using the Internet as a research tool,
the user must differentiate between quality information and misinformation.
job of evaluating a source's credibility lies with the user.
This article provides five valuable criteria for evaluating Internet sources.
The most important part of evaluating a Web site is checking the accuracy
of the source and content. The foremost rule in checking accuracy is
to validate the information in more than one source. The back-up source can be another
Web site or a print source. Preferably, one of the sources will
be published by a reputable company or knowledgeable person in the field.
If the user finds more than one source that conflicts
with the research, it is best not to use that information.
To further evaluate the accuracy of a Web site, answer
the following questions:
- Are the facts
on the site documented? Verifiable?
- Is more than one
source used for background information within the site?
- Does the site
contain a bibliography?
- Are copyright
- Is the site up-to-date?
- Are the links
within the site appropriate? Are they up-to-date?
- Was any significant
- Is an explanation
of the research method given?
- Are there grammatical
and spelling errors in the text?
- Is the article
biased? If so, is the bias presented as fact or opinion?
Only through research can the user verify the
facts and find supporting evidence to answer these questions. Remember
that the Internet allows anyone to publish, so be extra careful in evaluating
the information found there.
Two things to consider when evaluating the authority of a site are 1)
the author and the text and 2) the publisher
or sponsor of the site.
The author should be:
- clearly identified.
- well-known in the field or recommended by
someone who is well-known in the field.
- easily accessible, with an e-mail or postal
One of the first things to decide is whether a site is useful, especially
in cases when a search engine is used. When a keyword is searched, often
thousands of hits will appear. The first step in evaluating usefulness
begins with the result list. By reading the title and the description
of a site provided in the list, the user will usually have a good idea
if the site is worth investigating.
After selecting a site, the true evaluation of usefulness
begins. When investigating a broad topic, read through all the information
on the site, then answer the following questions:
the site address the topic?
the information about the topic comprehensive, or is it just a superficial
the site contain links to other sources that address the topic?
Is the information on the site current? This is not always an issue in
evaluating a site. For example, information on the development of stage
design in the 1800s will stay much the same whether it was printed yesterday
or three years ago. However, researching a current event, such as multiculturalism
in today's classroom, requires the most current information possible.
When evaluating the site, take into consideration when the information
was published and when the site was last updated. Also consider the currentness
of the links provided on the site.
Even though presentation of a site doesn't necessarily indicate the
validity of its information, it does affect an evaluation of the site.
The presentation of information on a site is important not only because
it makes the first impression on the user, but also because it affects
how easily the information can be accessed and documented.
When evaluating the presentation of a Web site, consider
the following questions:
- Is the information easy to access?
- Is the design appealing?
- Does the organization make sense?
- Are the sections properly labeled?
The publisher or sponsor of the page is often a good
indicator of content. If a reputable reference-work publisher, such as
Encyclopedia Britannica, produces the site it should be considered
trustworthy, although the information still needs to be supported. However,
if the publisher is unknown or is an individual, take extra care in checking
the facts. When an organization or corporation sponsors a page, beware
of bias. Often these sites are meant to persuade the user either to purchase
a product or to adopt a belief. Pay special attention to the language
used and the way in which it is presented.