Evaluating Web Information
Publisher or Sponsor
Point of View/Bias
Accuracy and Reliability
Why evaluate information found on the Web?
The web lacks
- Tons of information is dumped into cyberspace every day without anyone
being responsible for organizing it in a user-friendly fashion.
It's not always easy to find specific information on a topic because the
There's little or no quality control on the Internet.
- Practically anyone can upload a home page or web site,
allowing contributors a level of anonymity -- and with it, the potential
for great irresponsibility found in few other media.
Its easy to access web pages in which persons with unclear qualifications seem to speak with authority
on complex topics,
about which they may in truth have no real knowledge or expertise.
Just as its name indicates, the World Wide Web contains colossal networks of information
that vary in quality and credibility. Many
commercial websites don't
provide author or publisher credentials, or don't include enough
information to verify the content or currency of the site.
While abundant websites provide reliable
consumer information, many other sites contain untrustworthy, incorrect or
misleading information. It's your responsibility to develop the skills necessary to critically evaluate the quality and trustworthiness of the information you find on the
Consider the following criteria that can be used to help you with
your critical evaluation process:
Anyone with access to a server can publish anything on the web. It's important to identify
the author of a web document and verify his or her qualifications to write on
the topic. Ask yourself the following questions about authorship:
Tips to determine the credentials of an author:
If a document lists no obvious author, you must carefully examine the publisher, institution or
organization responsible for sponsoring the document's website.
- Go to the home page of the website that
contains the document and
search for the author’s name and his or her affiliation with the site.
- Try to find pages about or by the same author by performing a
search on the author’s
Publisher or Sponsor
It's essential to identify and evaluate the credentials and motivations of the organization or
people responsible for maintaining a website. Ask yourself the following questions about the website’s publisher or sponsoring agency:
- Does the site clearly identify the organization responsible for
publishing the information found on it?
- Is there a link at the top or bottom of the page linking back to information about the website’s publisher or
NOTE: You can often find such info from an "About Us" or "Frequently Asked
- From examining the website’s URL, can you determine if the page is part of someone’s personal account or part of an official site?
NOTE: A tilde (~) in the URL usually indicates a personal web page rather
than an institutional website.
- Can you find the sponsoring organization’s homepage by deleting all the information in the URL
after the website’s domain name?
For example, www.unca.edu/students/current/ is the UNCA Current Students
resource page. The University of North Carolina – Asheville homepage is
- Can you determine if the information has been published elsewhere,
such as in a scholarly journal?
- Does the document have consistent headers or wallpaper
that imply an association with a larger website?
Inspect the URL
By examining a website’s URL (uniform resource locator, commonly
called its web address), you can learn more about the type of website you're
exploring and where the information comes from. Components of a URL include:
- Host Computer: the host computer server where a website is
located, usually follows the “www.” This information is
important for determining where the web page originates:
For example http://www.unca.edu/lit/ is the UNCA Department of
Literature and Language homepage – unca is the campus server.
- Domain Name: the final few letters that follow the host computer name. Some common domains include:
.edu - educational institution (ranges from legitimate
university research to
personal student pages)
.net - network provider (usually provides services to
such as EarthLink)
.gov - government agency (usually official government
.org - non-profit organization (often like-minded individuals
working for a
common cause, may promote a specific point of
.com - commercial enterprise (usually trying to sell or endorse
- Directory Path: the directory in which the file is located, usually followed by a forward slash (i.e.
Point of View/Bias
Information doesn't occur in a vacuum, so it's rarely neutral. It's important to identify any biases and determine whether or not
one-sided point of view may influence your decision to use the information contained within the document. Ask yourself the following questions about bias:
- What's the author’s point of view? Is this point of view clearly stated by the author or
- Is the document trying to influence your opinion?
- Is this a commercial site? Is the purpose of the site to promote or sell
- Does the document come from a server sponsored by an organization
with a specific agenda (political, commercial or philosophical)?
- If the information refers to controversial issues, does the author acknowledge
such a controversy?
A web document with an obvious bias doesn't necessarily imply that the information it contains
is without value. Various sources of information are appropriate for use in different
research situations. It's your responsibility to determine whether or not
such subjective information will match your research needs.
Accuracy and Reliability
Editors and publishers don't necessarily examine and evaluate the content of web
The information contained within a web document must be carefully
errors and misleading statements. Ask yourself the following questions about accuracy and reliability:
- Is there a way to verify any background information provided in the document?
- Does the document contain any spelling or grammar errors?
- If the document quotes or refers to other sources, does it include a bibliography or
link to the original source documents mentioned?
- If you're looking at a research article, is the source of the
information clearly identified? Does the article include the gathered
data and explain the research
methods used to gather and interpret it?
- Does the document
contain any broken links?
Once a web document is placed on a server, it will remain there until it is
either removed or the server is turned off. Information available on the web is
not guaranteed to be up to date. Ask yourself the following questions about currency:
- Determine if currency is important to your topic (does your research
involve recent events, or is it historical?). If currency is
important, can you establish how up to date the information source may
- Is the page dated? Is it regularly maintained and updated?
If dates aren't provided, look for clues about currency within the document:
- Are there references to dated
information (i.e. 2000 Election
- Do the sources used in the document's bibliography or references
provide any dates or clues?
- Does the document refer to current news events?
- Are all the links current, or are any of them broken (changed or
About Intellectual Property
Although no one person, group or corporation owns or controls the web, the same
cannot be said for specific information resources available through it.
Copyright laws that protect intellectual property in the print publishing world also protect intellectual property in the virtual
- Most text and images that you find on the web are copyrighted.
You'll need to seek permission from the website copyright holder
(author, publisher or sponsoring agency) if you plan to use copyrighted material in a presentation or
web page of your
- To avoid
plagiarism (the use of someone's words or ideas as your
own) when writing a research paper, cite all sources that you use from the
web, just as you would from a printed book or article.
For more about plagiarism and citing electronic
information resources, explore our Ramsey Guides to