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Evaluating Web Resources

How to evaluate the objectivity, accuracy, and trustworthiness of Internet web sites.

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Welcome!

This guide offers an introduction to evaluating online resources, including web sites and pages (news, blog posts, organization and agency sites, etc.), social media, multimedia, e-books and journal articles, etc.

Why do I need to "evaluate" web resources?

You search for and use information on a daily basis, including outside of class. It is often easier to search for this information online.

However, information that is easy to find is not guaranteed to the be the best information available.

Reputable, up-to-date, accessible information is available online. When using the Internet, you will also find information that is incorrect, biased, out-of-date, misleading, or otherwise unhelpful. Mostly anyone can create a website regardless of whether or not they are actually knowledgeable on the topic.

 

The Internet vs. The Library

The library offers many excellent online resources, including e-books and access to journal and news article databases. As opposed to a lot of information from the general Internet, library resources have been reviewed by subject experts, editors, and librarians. They are more likely to be reliable, detailed, and appropriate for using in class or for academic research.


Accessing Digital Library Resources
  • Discover@UMSL: The Library's general search for books, articles, and more. On the results page, use the filters on the left side of the screen to narrow your results by the type of resource you want.

  • Databases: Allow you to search thousands of academic journals, newspapers, and magazines collected for you by credible publishing companies. You can choose a general database, a database for your subject area (e.g., psychology, nursing, education, etc.), or a database for a specific type of source.


If the Internet is so unreliable, is there anything available online that I can actually use?

Yes,  with some caveats.

Unlike library resources, the Internet is unfiltered. However, there are still knowledgeable people producing reliable, useful information and publishing it for free online.

It can be challenging to figure out which information is credible and which is not. It is a skill that develops over time. To get started, you can view the table below, which offers questions you can ask yourself about resources you find on the web.

For more detailed information, use the navigation tabs of this guide. You will find additional guidance on evaluating different types of online sources!

And as always, feel free to contact the library.

Evaluation of Web Documents

  Evaluation of Web documents How to interpret the basics
1

Accuracy of Web Documents

  • Who wrote the page and can you contact him or her?
  • What is the purpose of the document and why was it produced?
  • Is this person qualified to write this document?

Accuracy

  • Make sure author provides e-mail or a contact address/phone number.
  • Know the distinction between author and Webmaster.
  • Does the author cite reliable sources for his or her facts?
2

Authority of Web Documents

  • Who published the document and is it separate from the "Webmaster?"
  • Check the domain of the document; what institution publishes this document?
  • Does the publisher list his or her qualifications?

Authority

  • Are the authors of the document identified?
  • What credentials are listed for the author(s)?
  • Where is the document published? Check URL domain.
3

Objectivity of Web Documents

  • What goals/objectives does this page meet?
  • How detailed is the information?
  • What opinions (if any) are expressed by the author?

Objectivity

  • Determine if page is a mask for advertising; if so information might be biased.
  • View any Web page as you would an infomercial on television. Ask yourself why was this written and for whom?
4

Currency of Web Documents

  • When was it produced?
  • When was it updated?
  • How up-to-date are the links (if any)?

Currency

  • How many dead links are on the page?
  • Are the links current or updated regularly?
  • Is the information on the page outdated?
5

Coverage of the Web Documents

  • Are the links (if any) evaluated and do they complement the document's theme?
  • Is it all images or a balance of text and images?
  • Is the information presented cited correctly?

Coverage

  • If page requires special software to view the information, how much are you missing if you don't have the software?
  • Is it free, or is there a fee, to obtain the information?
  • Is there an option for text only, or frames, or a suggested browser for better viewing?

Table created by Jim Kapoun, adapted by Clinton Berry. Used with permission.

Is Wikipedia a reliable source?

For the answer to this question, see the Evaluating Websites guide from the University of Texas Arlington Library. In addition to information about how to use Wikipedia, it also has more great information and examples about how to determine which websites are reliable.