Tips on evaluating sources you find on the internet with a helpful checklist.
1) Who is the author?
One of the first questions to ask yourself about a Web page is "Who wrote it or created it?" Just as when we evaluate traditional print resources, we want to know something about the author of an Internet resource before accepting his or her "facts" or opinions.
Two terms that often come up in the discussion about authorship are authority and affiliation.
Authority refers to the author's credentials. What has the author done or earned or written that makes her or him or it (in the case of an organization) a trustworthy source of information? Remember that what earns authority will vary widely depending upon the topic.
Affiliation refers to the organization (if any) that the author works for, belongs to or represents. A group with which the author is affiliated will by association lend a certain amount of authority to that author.
There are plenty of good Web sites by dedicated amateurs. However, lack of authority and/or affiliation makes evaluating the author more difficult. Look to see if the author tells you anything about himself or herself. Also, look to see if other good Web sites link the page in question and/or have anything to say about the page or author in question.
Your goal should be to find information by authors whose work is worth your time. Be wary of trusting material for which no one has taken credit. Assessing authorship is closely related to assessing the reliability of the information provided (see #4 below).
2) What is the intent of the page/site?
There are plenty of great resources on the Internet whose purpose is to provide information. Be aware, however, that the World Wide Web is becoming increasingly more commercial. The intent of many sites is simply to sell you a product or service. In addition, there are many sites whose authors have a particular point of view, and information you find on such sites may be "colored" by that point of view.
One way to start assessing intent is to look at the domain to see what kind of an organization has registered the server on which the page is located. (Remember that an individual or an organization can lease space on a commercial server and provide non-commercial content on his or her Web page.)
Obviously the intent of the page will determine the kind of audience to whom the page is targeted (see #3 below).
3) Who is the intended audience?
Different resources are intended to be used by different audiences. Look at vocabulary, complexity, style and depth and quantity of information when you assess whether a Web site is appropriate for college-level research.
The intended audience is very much related to the intent of the page or site (see #2 above).
4) How reliable is the information provided?
The extent to which you can trust the information provided on a Web page is often directly related to the extent to which you trust the author (see #1 above). As in evaluating the author, one way to evaluate content is to see what other Web authors have to say about the author/ page or to see if the page is linked on relevant gateway sites.
Also, look for a bibliography or citations. Pages that cite their sources help establish the reliabilty of the information they provide.
Obviously, yet another way to evaluate reliability is to check a few of the "facts" provided against another--perhaps print--source.
5) How current is the information provided?
Depending upon the subject area, how current the information is will directly impact how reliable it is (see #4 above). Look to see when the last time the Web page was updated and how recent its references are.