EVALUATING A WEBSITE Questions Who Wrote It? Credible websites will offer information about its authors. Look for links like “About Us” or “Who We Are.” You might scroll to the bottom of the page to see if an author or corporation is listed there. If information about authorship is absent, the lack of accountability suggests the author is not willing to stand by his/her words, a sign of non trustworthiness. If the authors admit that they take a certain approach, that does not mean the site is unreliable, but it does suggest that you should bear in mind that they are predisposed to specific viewpoints. Look for credentials when checking authorship, and keep your eyes out for typographical errors, misspellings, and grammatical mistakes. If an author provides little or no information how where s/he found data or facts, the website is likely to be unreliable. When Was It Published? Although there is no “expiration date” on information, you might consider when an article was published. The context of the article will affect its content, and, depending upon your project, current data might be necessary. For instance, an article on MP3 files that was written when Napster was making headlines will sound decidedly different than one that was penned after the introduction of the latest iPod. The context of the article is crucial to understanding its Questions To Ask Questions To Ask Does the author have a degree in the field? Does the writing reflect merely one person’s opinion? Has the site been recognized by other experts as a good source of information? Does the site explain where it got its facts by providing a bibliography or end notes? Does the site feature advertising that may affect its content? Is there evidence that the articles have been edited or reviewed by other experts? Would your readers (i.e., your teachers) accept this source as credible? Questions To Ask Has the author provided a date of publication? Have there been significant changes in the field since the publication date? Would your readers accept the information as current, given the publication date? Has the site been updated to reflect current EVALUATING A WEBSITE Questions main points, so you will need to know when it was first published. Look for dates in the margins. Often, they are at the bottom of the page; some sites print publication dates next to the author’s byline. If no date is available, you might question the creditability of the site. A site that looks dated or neglected may have been “forgotten” by authors and left online in a “draft” form. What Kind Of Website Is IT? There are different kinds of websites, just like there are different kinds of magazines. There are some magazines that you would not consider to be reliable, such as the National Enquirer or other tabloids. On the web, it might be harder to discern serious articles from tabloid fodder. Think about whether a site is commercial and aimed at consumers. For instance, a website developed by a pharmaceutical company may present statistics about certain illnesses or conditions in a way that will encourage people to try their drugs. There isn’t a “right” kind of site, but you should know if the website contains a specific type of content, like blogs, links, or message boards. You should choose an appropriate website for your research. You would not look for the latest news in a phone book, of course, because the kind of information in a directory is Questions To Ask thinking? Does the site contain references (i.e., notes or a bibliography) to current articles, events, or documents? Are statistics accompanied by dates and sources? When did you access the article or website? You may need that information for your bibliography. Are there many broken links? Questions to Ask Is the website affiliated with any other form of media, like a newspaper or television show? Does the website document its facts with a bibliography or notes? Who is the intended audience of this website? What is the tone of the writing from the website? Does the site provide the kind of content that will further your research? Does the site focus on a certain kind of document (i.e., editorials, blogs, articles, lists of links)? Would your audience accept this kind of document (i.e., a blog or a newspaper article) as a reliable source? Does this kind of document privilege accuracy? EVALUATING A WEBSITE Questions Questions To Ask different from that of a newspaper. Similarly, there are different kinds of websites. Some sites will consist primarily of links or blogs while others present articles or analyses. Consider what type of information the site offers when evaluating its use. Why Was It Published? The Internet was first developed by researchers who wanted to share their scholarship with each other. Instead of becoming an academic repository, though, the Internet developed commercially, and many sites are launched to further a company’s profit and reputation rather than to share information. A website that is published for commercial reasons may reflect bias toward certain subjects. Other websites might present information in a “consumer-friendly” way, which suggests that the data may be oversimplified. Much like popular magazines, websites may offer “snippets” of information instead of the in-depth analyses that your professors prefer. Where Did you Find The Address? The Internet was first developed by researchers who wanted to share their scholarship with each other. Instead of becoming an academic repository, though, the Internet developed commercially, and many sites are launched to further a company’s profit and reputation rather than to Questions To Ask Does the website contain advertisements that are related to its content? Does the website repeatedly refer to a book or product? Are there any registration fees? Would this website appeal to experts in the field? Are the articles written in a professional tone? Would your readers accept this website as a source of information? Does the website focus on facts or on the opinions of its viewers? Questions To Ask Did you learn about the site from a commercial? If someone told you about a site, is this a person who understands the nature of your research? Did you follow a link from a reputable site? EVALUATING A WEBSITE Questions share information. A website that is published for commercial reasons may reflect bias toward certain subjects. Other websites might present information in a “consumer-friendly” way, which suggests that the data may be oversimplified. Much like popular magazines, websites may offer “snippets” of information instead of the in-depth analyses that your professors prefer. Published Jul 20, 2009 (Updated Aug 28, 2012) Questions To Ask Is the site affiliated with an organization, school, or journal? Can you verify the site’s address by typing in the URL in a separate browser window? Do experts refer to the site? Did you select this site carefully or did you randomly choose it from a longer list? If someone asked you why you chose to use this site, could you explain why you picked it over other sites?