How to Evaluate Websites
Anyone can be a publisher on the internet. Well-presented websites do not always mean quality content. When using the internet, make sure the information is credible, relevant and reliable enough for academic research.
Consider the following before citing a website in your work:
The author of a website or webpage can be a person or an organisation. Checking who the author is can verify the quality of the information and the reliability of the website.
Identify the Author
Different people can write for different pages on a website. It is important to identify the specific author of the material you are using. Information about an author is often found at the bottom of the first page (copyright section), via a link to author information, or in a profile page (e.g. about us). Once you have identified the author you need to consider:
- What are the author’s credentials or qualifications? (Google their name)
- What else have they written?
- Do they have some standing in their particular field?
- Are they authorized to comment on the topic on behalf of the organisation who owns the website?
- If the author's identity cannot be found, the information could be unreliable
Check the Domain Name
Domain names give an indication of the nature of a website. Is the domain address:
- Commercial (.net /.com)
- Non-Commercial (.org)
- Educational (.edu /.ac /.school)
- Governmental (.govt /.gov /.mil)
For example: The domain name tells you that http://www.waikato.ac.nz is educational and the official website of the University of Waikato. This often gives an indication of the website's authority.
Check the Credentials of the website
Well-presented websites don't always mean quality content.
- What is the reputation of the site?
- Is the site well-known?
- What is the reputation of others involved in the production of the site, such as publishers, sponsors, advertisers?
- Does the site have credentials from other websites? (e.g. Has it won awards? Is it listed on an authoritative website?)
- How well is the site edited? Are there spelling mistakes or grammatical errors?
- Does it look genuine and not a hoax?
Out of date information can lead to inaccuracy and misleading information. Some things to consider:
- When was the page created and how frequently is it updated? The date of creation or last update is often found at the bottom of the first page of the site. Otherwise, go to the author information page, if available
- How current are the links? Have some expired? Dead links signify lack of maintenance
Think critically to confirm a site's reliability. Be aware that some sites present opinion as fact in order to sell, persuade or entertain. For this reason, it is very important to understand a site's purpose.
- Do you understand the site's purpose?
- Is it to inform, entertain, persuade, sell?
- Is the information appropriate to your needs?
- Can you locate a statement of intended purpose and coverage?
- Does the site achieve its purpose?
- Who is the intended audience and what level is the information?
- How superficial or comprehensive is the coverage?
- Are there sources and references given within the site?
- Is there a bibliography or links to further information on the topic? (This is to be expected if the website is intended for an academic audience.)
It is also important to consider how trustworthy the information on the site is. Facts should be verifiable and while opinions are fine, these should be placed in an appropriate scholarly context.
- Is the information supported by evidence? How does it compare with other information you have found on the topic?
- What is the objective of those involved in the development of the site? Does the site show a bias towards particular points of view? (Is it an advocacy site?)