Everyone doing research needs to evaluate the sources they use in their work. Some sources are more reliable than others. Not everything that is printed or on the internet is trustworthy; information can contain bias, be outdated, or contain inaccurate data. Learn more about evaluating sources here.
Considering the Source…
All sources, whether they are books or websites, need to be evaluated. You should consider the authority, accuracy and currency of every source before using it in your work.
What makes this author an authority on the subject?
In order to answer this question you will need to locate the name or names of the authors first. Try to see if there is any information included about the author(s) in the book, article, or website. Sometimes publishers will include biographical information that can tell you more about the author’s credentials (their education, experience, publications, and other accomplishments). You can also try to find more information about the author or authors on the internet.
Is this information accurate?
This is a difficult question to answer, especially if you are not an expert in the field you are researching. A good way to check the accuracy of information is to take a look at the work’s cited list of the source you are reviewing. The sources in the list can give you a better idea of the extent of the author’s research. Another way to verify the accuracy of the information is to compare it to other sources written on the same topic. Are there discrepancies between the sources or are they compatible?
Is the information current?
Taking a look at the publication date will be the best way to answer this question. For online or electronic publications, there will most likely be two dates: the original date of publication and the electronic date of publication. Websites may be periodically updated. Locate the date of the last revision.
Another thing to consider about currency is how important it is to your topic of study. Currency will be essential for some topics and not as important for other topics. Primary documents, some of the most reliable sources, may not be current at all but may still prove to be reliable sources.
Evaluating the authority, accuracy, and currency of all sources is extremely important, but accurately evaluating websites needs a more critical approach. Publishing websites can be done by virtually anyone. There are no prerequisites to creating a website. There is no reviewing or editing process for websites. Many websites are created by reputable organizations which do include reviewing and editing before posting their information, but many do not. This means you have to do more work to determine whether or not the information on the website is reliable.
When evaluating websites consider…
WHO? WHY? WHEN? WHAT? HOW?
Who is responsible for this website? What are the author’s credentials (education, experience, accomplishments, etc.)?
All websites have a creator. This may be an individual, group of people, or an organization. Most reputable websites will have an “About Us” link where you will be able to find out more about the creator or creators. You should be able to learn something about their education, experience, publications and accomplishments. If you cannot find any information on the creator of the website, it is probably not a reliable source.
Why was this website created?
Considering sponsorship can give you insight into why a website was created. Knowing more about the sponsors of a website can give you a better idea of the website’s point of view and possible bias. Reading the “About Us” link can give you more information about the website’s sponsors.
All websites have domains. Taking a look at a website’s domain may reveal more information about the website’s sponsorship. A commercial organization may want to sell something while an educational institution wants to educate. Listed below are some of the more commonly used domains:
.com = commercial organization
.org = usually a non-profit organization
.edu = educational institution
.gov = government institution
.net = typically an organization involved in an internet service
.int = international organization
When was the website last updated?
All reliable websites will post a date when they were last updated or revised. This is extremely important since many websites post information and leave the information online indefinitely. When you use information from a website, you will need to be sure it is current information. Be particularly aware of dates on data charts, graphs, and statistics. Also check to see if links are working and updated.
What is the content of the website?
Evaluating the content of information on the website will help you determine whether or not it is a reliable source. Information should be in-depth, clearly written, and supported by facts. A list of consulted works and/or links should be included in the website.
The Design (How?)
How is the website designed?
Considering the design of a website may give you an idea of whether the website is reputable. The graphics should enhance the website, not distract from it. The website should be easy to navigate. Spelling and grammatical errors may indicate that a website has not been edited or reviewed.
SHHS Library Catalog
St Helena Public Library
ABC CLIO Database
World Book Online