ENG 112 : Research Writing (Oness)

Evaluating Information from the Web

Checklist for Evaluation

Whether you're on a blog, reading comments in a Reddit thread, browsing images on Pinterest, you're evaluating the information. Based on your interests or information needs at the time, you evaluate the piece by who posted/pinned (their knowledge or skills), the quality, the currency, its genuineness, and so on. When you research for an academic project, you employ similar techniques of evaluation. You will determine whether a resource is appropriate for your paper, credible, reliable, and authoritative. 

The following list will assist you in developing a strategy for critically evaluating sources:

  • Quality of the resource: is the resource free of spelling, grammatical, factual errors, formal vs. informal language?
  • Cited sources: does the source provide a list of their sources? Note that some resources, such as newspaper articles or magazine articles typically do not cite their sources. In this case, use the other criteria to determine reliability. You will have to determine if a newspaper or magazine article is an appropriate source for your paper. 
  • Author's credibility: what is his/her expertise on the topic? Have he/she written about this topic before? Does he/she have an advanced degree (such as a Master's, J.D., or Ph.D) in the discipline? Do other authors refer back to this author? What is his/her reputation?
  • Publisher credibility: Was the book or article published by an university press? Examples include Oxford University Press, Harvard University Press, MIT Press, University of Nebraska, etc. If it was an university press, then it is most likely a peer reviewed source, which means that other experts, the author's peers, reviewed and evaluated the piece before it was published. Books and articles published by popular presses or published in popular magazines may also have respectable reputations, but their purpose is to reach a general audience and not to communicate scholarship, so you will have to decide if those resources would be the most appropriate for your research. 
  • Objectivity: Is this resource biased? Are the opinions supported by evidence? Are the writer's opinions based on fact (supported by evidence) or is he/she opinion based on emotions or untested ideas? Is this piece presenting a verifiable perspective or is it propaganda? 
  • Currency: How current is the information? Could there be more current information? 
  • Determine the information you need: Do you require a brief overview of a topic? Or, do you need more detailed, extensive information? If you only need a brief account or overview, a newspaper or an entry in a reference book may be sufficient, but if you are writing a research paper, you may need to locate academic sources, such as a peer-reviewed article or book.

Web Searching

A Google search can be helpful in the preliminary stages of research, especially now that more quality content has been made publicly accessible on the web; a publicly accessible resource means you will not be charged an additional fee to access the content. While access to credible content on the web has increased so has the amount of unreliable, malicious, and undocumented content. All of us know that anyone can post or upload content on the web. As researchers we have to remain critical to determine the authority, credibility, and quality of the content.

A big difference between the content you'll find searching in the library's databases and catalog (locating articles and books) and searching using Google is that the majority of the content found through the library's research tools have been reviewed and edited. These resources had to follow a set standard of guidelines determined by the experts in that discipline and/or by the publisher. The content you find through the Internet does not necessarily have a standard of publishing guidelines, so there may be no one vetting the information for accuracy and credibility; a standard of publishing content on the Internet is determined by the organization or by the discipline. Develop a habit of evaluating each website you visit. The criteria list above can be also be applied to the web, but here's a short list of questions for you to consider:

  • Who is the author or the host of the site? Who created this content? Do they have expertise on the topic?
  • What is the domain name? Some domain names have more credibility, such as a .gov or .edu. Content published on a .gov or .edu will have standard of publishing content or, at the minimum, a set of expectations. 
  • What is the organization's agenda? Examples:
    • If you decide to cite a page from epa.gov, you know that the agenda of the EPA is to protect our health and the environment through enforcing regulations based on laws passed by Congress.
    • Before you were to cite Dihydrogen Monoxide Research Division (Google it!) as a resource about the harmful effects of consuming Dihdrogen Monoxide, you would learn that the purpose of this website is to educate people about the dangers of not being science literate; Dihdrogen Monoxide is another name for water.
    • When we learn that Stormfront hosts the site Martinlutherking.org, we know that a white supremacist organization will not portray a person of color in a positive and accurate way.
  • When was the resource last updated?
  • Were the sources cited?

Purdue Owl: Evaluating Print vs. Internet sources

Purdue Owl: Searching the World Wide Web