How do I evaluate resources, including web pages?

Whether the documents you find during your research are print or electronic, evaluating these sources is a crucial task. Evaluation becomes especially important when items are retrieved from the Internet using a search engine.

The Five Traditional Print Evaluation Criteria

Traditionally, most information sources have been evaluated using the following criteria: 

Criterion #1: Accuracy

  • How reliable and free from error is the information?
  • Are there editors and fact checkers?

Criterion #2: Authority

  • What are the author’s qualifications for writing on this subject?
  • How reputable is the publisher?

Criterion #3: Objectivity

  • Is the information presented with a minimum of bias?
  • To what extent is the information trying to sway the opinion of the audience?

Criterion #4: Currency

  • Is the content of the work up-to-date?
  • Is the publication date clearly labeled?

Criterion #5: Coverage

  • What are the topics included in the work?
  • Are the topics included explored in depth?  

(Ideas originally developed by Jan Alexander and Marsha Tate)

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Adapting the Five Traditional Print Evaluation Criteria to Web Resources

When evaluating web sites it is critically important to ask yourself a number of questions regarding the accuracy of the information contained on the web site, the authority of the person or organization behind the web site, the possible bias or lack of objectivity of the writer of the web site, the currency of the information on the web site, and whether or not the web site actually gives enough coverage to the topic you are researching. 

Our Web Site Evaluation Worksheet will guide you through this questioning process. When using the worksheet, keep in mind why the five evaluative criteria are so important:  

Criterion #1: Accuracy of Web Resources  

  • Almost anyone can publish on the Web
  • Many Web resources are not verified by editors and/or fact checkers
  • Web standards to ensure accuracy are yet to be fully developed

Criterion #2: Authority of Web Resources

  • It is often difficult to determine authorship of Web sources
  • If an author’s name is listed, his/her qualifications are frequently absent
  • Publishers responsibility is often not indicated

Criterion #3: Objectivity of Web Resources

  • The goals and aims of the persons or groups presenting the material is often not clearly stated.
  • The Web often functions as “virtual soapbox”

Criterion #4: Currency of Web Resources

  • Dates are not always included on Web pages
  • If included, a date may have various meanings, such as:
    • The date the information was first written,
    • The date the information was first placed on the Web, or
    • The date the information on the page was last revised.

Criterion #5: Coverage of Web Resources

  • Web coverage of a particular topic may differ from print coverage
  • It is often hard to determine the extent of Web coverage

Conclusion: Remember!

The Web is only one source of information. It can be very useful for researching certain topics; it can be almost useless for other topics. 

To research most topics thoroughly, it is best to use a variety of sources (books, journals, newspapers, interviews, web sites, etc.).  

(Ideas originally developed by Jan Alexander and Marsha Tate)