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Finding and Evaluating Web Sources: Evaluating Sources

This guide gives tips and tricks for finding web sources and evaluating their value for academic research.

Introduction

We trust academic journals because peer review and other editorial oversight go a long way to ensuring the accuracy of the data and findings presented. On the Internet, there is no overseeing body, so any content you find could be suspect.

Learning how to evaluate your results is the most important skill you'll need in order to effectively use web sources in your research. A healthy dose of skepticism will help you avoid falling into this trap.

On this page, learn what points to look for in order to verify the content and how to double check what you find. These tips are just a starting point—you'll get better at this the more you do it.

A Video about Evaluating Web Sources

Activity

Test your skills in evaluating web sources by applying the PAARC concepts to the items below.

  1. Study
  2. Data
  3. Report
  4. Tweet
  5. Document
  6. Article

Purpose

Purpose

  • Does the article seem to be objective, or is there any obvious bias or prejudice?
  • Does the author use emotional language?
  • Is the author writing on behalf of any company or political entity?

How to verify

  • Finding more information about the author or sponsoring company should give you a sense of the purpose of a web source.
  • Look for ads on the page—this suggests a commercial purpose, which suggests a possible bias.
  • Trust your gut. Does the source feel balanced and impartial?

Authority

Authority

  • Who wrote the article?
  • Is the author an expert in the field? What credentials does he or she have to suggest that?
  • Can you find any other resources that cite this article?

How to verify

  • Look for an About page on the website for more information about the author. You might also find a little more information on Contact or FAQ pages.
  • If you know the author's name, check in a search engine to confirm their authority on a subject and any claims they make about jobs or degrees.
  • If the author's name is not available, look for a sponsoring company and find out more about it. Look for potential bias.
  • In extreme cases when you cannot find any trace of an author, you may want to try a WhoIs search to find out who registered a particular domain.
  • If you are unable to verify an author's authority, try to go back a step and evaluate any cited information.

Accuracy

Accuracy

  • Does the information in the article fit with what you already know about the subject?
  • Does the article contain references or citations to other resources?

How to verify

  • If your source has a bibliography, search for a random sampling of entries from the list. If they exist, read the abstracts to verify that they are connected to the web source. If you're still not sure, try to find the exact section referenced by the web source.
  • If there is no bibliography, check any hyperlinks to see if the section referenced can be found and is being used accurately.
  • For any assertions or statistics that seem out of place or do not fit with what you already know about the subject, verify in a search engine. Keep following any leads as far as you can back to the original source—many sites may be reproducing the same incorrect information, or you may have found several mirror sites.
  • To find out which other sites link to the source you found, you can search [link:URL] in Google and most other search engines.

Relevance

Relevance

  • Does the information in this article answer your research question?
  • Does the type of article fit the requirements of your assignment?
  • Is this article appropriate for college-level research?

How to verify

  • Be sure to read over and ask any questions about your assignment before you select your sources. Double check if you are allowed to use web sources and if so, how many.
  • Look at the About page of a website for more information about the intended audience. Watch out for websites for children or overly basic content.

Currency

Currency

  • When was this article or page published? Has it been updated since then?
  • Has the author written more recent papers on the same subject?
  • Does this article contain statistics or data? Are more current figures available elsewhere?

How to verify

  • Some articles are dated, either at the top by the title or at the bottom.
  • Look at the footer information on a website to see if there is a copyright date listed. If the date is a few years back, the website may not have been updated in a while.
  • If you found an internal page via a search engine, go back to the homepage to see if newer content is available.
  • Use the author's name to look in a search engine. They might have written an updated article or done further research on the same topic.