For research, the Web lacks the quality assurance that editors provide with print publications or that librarians provide when collecting materials for their library. What are some questions you can ask yourself to determine whether a Web site is appropriate to use for college-level research?
Who Is the Web Site's Author?
Determining who is responsible for a Web site is one way to assess its credibility. Ask yourself:
- Is the author an expert in his or her field? Try a Google search to find out more information about the author.
- Does the author's background or credentials indicate that the information contained in the Web site is trustworthy? If you find that an author is affiliated with a well-known university, for example, you can be reasonably sure he or she is qualified to write about his or her area of expertise.
- Has the author written books or articles that demonstrate significant knowledge on his or her subject? Try searching subject databases that might contain books or articles written by the author.
Tip: An organization, such as a business, a professional association, or a government agency can be considered the author of a Web site. If you are unsure about identifying an organization responsible for a Web site, it is oftentimes helpful to refer to the "About This Site" or "About Us" link on the Web site:
Note: For citation purposes, you will be required to include the copyright date or the latest date the Web site was updated. This can often be found at the bottom of the homepage of the Web site:
Is the Information on the Web Site Accurate?
Determining the credibility of a Web site's author is one way to assess its accuracy. You can also ask yourself these questions:
- How does the information compare with articles or books that you have read on the subject?
- Is there a way to contact the site's author?
- Is the site affiliated with an authoritative institution-for example, a university or government organization?
Is the Web Site Well-Maintained and Current?
Oftentimes, a good indication of the validity of a site is whether it is professionally maintained. For example:
- Can you find a copyright date (such as in the example for the American Cancer Society) or a date indicating when the site was last updated?
- Does the site contain many broken links or links to Web sites that are not reliable or authoritative?
- Is the site cluttered or well-designed and easy to navigate?
Tip: Keep in mind that currency is more important in some instances (a news site, for example), and less so in others (a site devoted to Shakespeare.)
What is the Web Site's Purpose?
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