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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Ways of the Web: Filter Bubbles and the Deep Web: Evaluating Websites

This guide is a companion to the Ways of the Web Savvy Researcher Workshop.

Introduction

By Julo (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

All websites, Deep Websites and surface websites, should be evaluated for a number of different criteria, especially if you are planning to use the information found there in a course assignment or other scholarly research.

In evaluating content on the web, you will look for many of the same characteristics that you look for in other resources, and evaluate based on some additional criteria, such as the host of the website and functionality of the website.

Evaluation is especially important for using web sources for research assignments, but it is also of course important to view websites critically even if your research is only for personal purposes.

Additional Information

For additional information on evaluation, visit the following website and LibGuide:

Criteria for Evaluation

Below are important criteria for evaluating sources on the web, along with questions you can ask yourself to determine if the source is high quality and worth using.


Currency - Is the information up-to-date? Remember that just because the webpage has been updated recently, that doesn't mean that all of the information on the webpage has necessarily been updated. Cross check the information with other sources. 

Accuracy - Current information is more likely to be accurate, but not always. Even if it is current, be sure to cross check the information with other sources.

Coverage - Does the website cover the topic thoroughly, and is it comprehensive? If not, do you have other sources you can use to fill in the gaps in coverage? Be sure the source has the kind of coverage of the topic that you want before you decide to use it.

Authority - Who authored the content on the web page? What are their credentials? Are they an expert in the field? Depending upon how you are using this information, you want to be sure that the author is a credible and reliable source of information in the field. One way to determine this is to look at what kinds of websites link to the website you are evaluating. The more credible and authoritative those websites are, the more credible and authoritative the one you are evaluating is likely to be. You can find out what links to a particular website at alexa.com.

Host - Is the host a reputable organization or individual? (The government - with a domain of .gov - would be an example.) Remember, the author is not always the host of the website. The author could have some sort of sponsor, and that could mean that there were terms that he/she had to agree to in order to publish on that site. When evaluating for authority, pay attention to the website host or sponsor in addition to the actual author. For example, it is usually best to stay away from information hosted on corporate websites, because for-profit companies can have a hidden agenda that serves their bottom line of profit. On the other hand, the information on a corporate website might meet all of the other criteria here. If the corporation's mission is to spread accurate and objective information, and you can corraborate the information with other sources, it may be acceptable to use. Use your best judgment. 

Objectivity - Does the information reflect an author's bias? If the author has a position, is it well reasoned and argued and supported by empirical evidence? If you are going to use a source that is biased, you want to make sure that the position reflected is supported by ample evidence. You also want to acknowledge any bias in your paper or article.

Relevancy - Is the information related to the topic you are researching? You may find something to be interesting, but make sure it has a place in your main argument.

Functionality - Is the website easy to navigate and use? You may find good information on a website, but if it's very messy and difficult to find that information, it would make it difficult for your readers to later trace those citations and figure out the exact source and location of the information that you used.

Ads - If the website has a lot of ads (especially if they are particularly prominent or distracting), you may not want to use it as a source. The information may be accurate and authoritative, but the appearance may undermine its credibility. Remember, what will your professor or readers think of this website? What does it say about a source of information if it contains advertisements for commercial products and services, for example? Many people might think the information is biased, even if it is not.