Five Criteria for Evaluating Web Pages
It's so easy to find information on most any topic on the Internet. Whether or not that information is reliable, up-to-date, and unbiased is really the big question for anyone doing research on the web. Books, magazines, and journal and newspaper articles have to meet stronger quality control standards, and it's usually not hard to figure out when print material was published, who published it, and if the information is reliable or not. It's not quite like that with information you find on the web. Anyone can create a web site, and usually, there aren't standards to evaluate the quality and accuracy of the information. So that makes it even more important to take the time to make sure to critically examine the information and the website. When you use the following 5 important criteria -- Accuracy, Authority, Objectivity, Currency, and Coverage -- wading through the mass of information can be less confusing, and, you can be a better consumer of information.
Five Criteria for Evaluating Web Pages: Accuracy, Authority, Objectivity, Currency and Coverage
Evaluation of Web Documents
How to Interpret the Basics
1. Accuracy of Web Documents
- Who wrote the page? Can you contact him or her?
- Is this person qualified to write this document?
- What is the purpose of the document and why was it produced?
- Make sure author provides e-mail or a contact address/phone number.
- Remember the difference between an author and webmaster.
2. Authority of Web Documents
- Who published the document? Which institution publishes this document?
- Does the publisher list his or her qualifications?
- What credentials are listed for the publisher?
- Where is the document published?
- Check URL domain. While university/college (.edu) websites,
government (.gov), and non-profit (.org) websites are
generally considered credible because of their affiliations,
it is still the researcher's responsibility to make sure that the
information passes the makes sense.
Commercial websites (.com) may be credible, but
you will need to check the credentials of the authors to be sure
that the information is not biased.
3. Objectivity of Web Documents
- What goals/objectives does the site 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,
the information might be biased.
- View any web page as you would an infomercial on television.
Ask yourself: why was this written and for whom?
4. Currency of Web Documents
- When was the site produced?
- When was it updated?
- 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?
- If page requires special software to view the information, how much are you missing if you don't have the software?
- Is it free or is there a fee to obtain the information?
- Is there an option for text only, or frames, or a suggested browser for better viewing?
Putting it all together
- Accuracy. If your page lists the author and institution that published the page and provides a way of contacting him/her, AND...
- Authority. If your page lists the author credentials and its domain is preferred (.edu, .gov, or .org) AND...
- Objectivity. If your page provides accurate information with limited advertising and it is objective in presenting the information, AND...
- Currency. If your page is current and updated regularly (as stated on the page) and the links (if any) are also up-to-date, AND...
- Coverage. If you can view the information properly--not limited to fees, browser technology, or software requirement, THEN...
You may have a web page that could be of value to your research!
Adapted and used with permission of the author, Jim Kapoun, former Library Director at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa. The chart is adapted from his article, "Teaching Web Evaluation to Undergrads," which appeared in College and Research Libraries News, July/August 1998: 522-523.