Evaluating Websites                Dr. Arthur Versluis

                     Not all of the information to be found on the web is
                     accurate and not all websites, no matter how attractive, are
                     good. Thus evaluating a website becomes an important activity.
                     When evaluating a website, consider the following questions:

                            Who wrote the pages?
                            What does the author have to say about the
                            Does the author have the authority to present this
                            Does the author/publishing organization have
                            anything to gain by presenting this information?
                            When was the site created and updated?
                            Where does the site's information come from?
                            Is the information consistent with other published
                            material on the topic?
                            Why it the site useful or important?
                            Can the information be verified in book, periodical
                            or other sources?

                     Fact or Opinion?

                     In reading nonfiction, it is important to distinguish between fact
                     and opinion. One can easily draw wrong inferences and
                     conclusions if what is accepted as fact is in reality only one
                     person's opinion. To test whether or not a statement is a fact,
                     ask these questions:

                               Can it be proved or demonstrated to be true?
                               Can it be observed in practice or operation?
                        Can it be verified by witnesses, manuscripts, or documents?
                     This does not mean that opinions should be discounted. On the
                     contrary, sound opinions based upon logic, research and study,
                     and experience are very valuable. However, to be an alert
                     reader, one needs to know where fact ends and opinion begins.


A very useful table explaining criteria for website evaluation was created by Jim Kapoun, reference and instruction librarian at Southwest State University, and published in College and Research Libraries News, (July/August, 1998):522-523.
Five criteria for evaluating Web pages

  1. Accuracy of Web Documents

        Who wrote the page and can you contact him or her?
        What is the purpose of the document and why was it produced?
        Is there any indication of quality control - an editorial board or editors?
        Is this person qualified to write this document?
                                                            Make sure author provides e-mail or a contact
                                                            address/phone number.
                                                            Know the distinction between author and      Webmaster.

  2. Authority of Web Documents

        Who published the document and is it separate from the "Webmaster?"
        Check the domain of the document; what institution publishes this document?
        What credentials are listed for the author(s)?
         Where is the document published? Check URL domain.
  3. Objectivity of Web Documents

        What goals/objectives does this page meet?
        How detailed is the information?
        What opinions (if any) are expressed by the author?
       Determine if page is a mask for advertising; if so, information might be biased.
                                                            View any Web page as you would an infommercial
                                                            on television. Ask yourself why was this written      and for whom?
  4. Currency of Web Documents

        When was it produced?
        When was it updated?
        How up-to-date are the links (if any)?
       How many dead links are on the page?
                                                            Are the links current or updated regularly?
                                                            Is the information on the page outdated?
  5. Coverage of the Web Documents

        Are the links (if any) evaluated and do they
        complement the documents theme?
        Is it all images or a balance of text and images?
        Is the information presented cited correctly?
   More General Criteria

          Purpose & Audience
                 Consider the intended audience of the page, based on its content, tone and style.  Does this mesh with your needs?
                  What is the purpose of this page?  Is there a hidden agenda?

          Consider the Source
                 Web search engines often amass vast results, from memos to scholarly documents.  Many of the resulting items will be peripheral or useless for your research.
                 Author/producer is identifiable
                 Author/producer has expertise on the subject as indicated on a credentials page. You may need to  trace back in the URL (Internet address) to view a page in a higher directory with background information
                 Sponsor/location of the site is appropriate to the material as shown in the URL
                        .edu for educational or research material
                        .gov for government resources
                 ~NAME in URL may mean a personal home page with no official sanction
                 Mail-to link is offered for submission of questions or comments

          Content & Accuracy
                 Don't take the information presented at face value
                 Web sites are rarely refereed or reviewed, as are scholarly journals and books.  Look for point of view and especially
                 for evidence of bias
                 Source of the information should be clearly stated, whether original or borrowed from elsewhere