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5) Evaluate Sources: Evaluating Websites

A University of Lethbridge Library guide to evaluating sources.

Evaluating Websites

The Web can be a valuable research tool, but not all online sources are equally credible. Because anyone can publish anything online, it is important to think critically about the information you find on the Web. Before you cite an online source in your work, consider the questions below. Also, remember that many quality sources are not available on the Internet, especially for free. Be sure to consult the library's print and electronic collections when conducting research.

Authority: Can you trust the source?

  • Can you identify the author?
  • If the author is an individual, what are his or her credentials or other qualifications? Is the author a recognized authority in the relevant field of study?
  • If the author is a corporation, government body, or special interest group, what can you find out about the organization?
  • What is the domain of the website? Some domains (e.g. .edu, .gov, .gc.ca) indicate that the webpage is hosted by a government or educational institution. These are more likely to provide reliable information. 

Currency: Is the information up to date?

  • Are you able to determine when the website or webpage was created? When was the page last updated?
  • Is the information time-sensitive? Some types of information go out of date quickly (e.g. medical knowledge).

Purpose: Why was the website/page created?

  • Who is the intended audience? Is the information written for an academic or popular audience?
  • Is the website/page intended to inform? To persuade? To sell a product?
  • Does the author present a balanced view of the topic? Are opposing viewpoints acknowledged?

Content: Is the information that the website/page presents quality academic research?

  • Is the website/page organized in a logical and understandable manner?
  • Are the author's arguments well-reasoned and supported by sufficient evidence? Can you verify the information elsewhere?
  • Does the author cite his or her sources? Are there many citations? Are the materials cited primarily scholarly sources? Are they a mix of primary and secondary sources, or only secondary sources?

 

Evaluating Purpose

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A Note about Wikipedia

 Should I use Wikipedia in my research? 

Like all encyclopedias, Wikipedia should only ever be used as a starting point for your research. Encyclopedia articles summarize primary and secondary sources; they do not contain original research or analysis. You should always cite the original source—not someone else's summary of it.

For Wikipedia's own assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of its articles, follow this link.