The New Digital Dilemma: Fact or Fiction?

5 Essential Tips for Evaluating Websites

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by: Ufuk Yağcı

According to Internet Live Stats, there are over 1 billion websites on the World Wide Web today. With current tools, almost anyone can create a website. Website owners can write, print or publish anything they would like without worrying about the consequences. With the massive information that we are interacting with each day, it is a daunting task to determine what is credible. Here are five quick tips for evaluating websites.

1. Check the Web Address

The first thing you should do is look at the web address for determining credibility. Each web address has a three letter suffix. The suffix “com”, for example, represents commercial companies and does not guarantee the reliability of the website. The following suffixes are more reliable web addresses.

gov or mil Governments and military.
org Primarily used by non-profit groups.
edu or ac Accredited higher education schools.
sch or k12 Accredited K-12 schools.


Is this a personal page?

Even if the web address has one the suffixes listed above, you should also check if it is a personal page. You can check for the personal sites by looking at a personal name (e.g., jwarner or warner) following a tilde (~),  percent sign (%) or the words “users”, “members” or “people”. Personal pages are not necessarily bad, but there is a need to investigate the author carefully.

Is it published by an entity that makes sense?

If it is not a web address with the above reliable suffixes, please check if you have heard of this entity before. For example “www.nytimes.com” is a recognizable news site.

2. Check the Authors

Find out, who the author is. You can find information on the author by looking for information under “About us” or “Philosophy” or “Background” or “Biography”. Try to answer the following questions:

  • Who wrote the pages?
  • What are the author’s credentials on the subject?
  • What else has the author written?
  • Does the author represent a certain political, cultural or social group, organization?

3. Check the Dates

It is important that the information that you are accessing is up-to-date. Please analyze the website and try to answer the following questions:

  • Look for the date “last updated”. This information is usually at the bottom of the web page.
  • If this is a publication, check when it was first published. This information is uually at the top of the page.

If you cannot find the date of a website, do a right click and click on ‘inspect’ or find ‘properties’ to check the date.

4. Check the Purpose and Accuracy

Knowing the motive behind the website’s creation can help you judge on the reliability of the content and whether the information provided has been altered or manipulated in some way to change the meaning.  You can check the “about” link or look at the disclaimers to find information about the purpose of the website.

Ask the following questions:

Why was the page put on the web? Try to understand the agenda and analyze the website taking into consideration the following questions:

Was the page put to inform or give facts? Is it an educational resource? Was the information put to explain, to persuade something? Is there an economic value to this site, are they trying to sell something? Does this website fill any other personal, professional or social needs?

For example, if the purpose of the website is to persuade, then you should examine the material very closely before accepting it for a fact.

Can this be ironic? Satire or parody? Think about the “tone” of the page. Is it humorous or is it a parody? Is it exaggerated? Are there outrageous photographs or unlikely images? snopes.comis a website that collects urban legends and Internet rumors. You can best use this site as a reference for validating photos.

Is the information fact or opinion? Did they cite their sources? Check some of the references.

Crosscheck information with at least two other sites. Can you find the similar information in other reliable sources?

Are there any reviews about this publication or website? Other evaluations can help you determine the credibility of the information.

What is the intended audience? Who is the website address for?

5. Check Relevance & Context

Even if the information on the website is trustworthy, you still need to check if it is relevant to your needs. Try to understand the relevance by asking the following questions:

How is the information relevant to your research? The website may be cool, but is the content appropriate for your research needs?

Are the time period and geographic region relevant to your research?

The readability of the website plays an important role for context. If your content is too small or pale and it is not possible to read them well, then there’s no way for your message to get across.

Here are some questions to run your website content through to evaluate its quality:

Check general format and outlook

  • Are the fonts readable?
  • Are there spelling errors? Spelling and grammar mistakes probably mean that the web page is not trustworthy.
  • Are there photos that are big or out of proportion?
  • Does the website look professional?

Check consistency

  • Do all the links work?
  • If there are links to other pages as sources, are they reliable sources?
  • Are the links well chosen, well organized?
  • Do links represent other viewpoints?
  • Is this site good for some things and not good for other?

Conclusion

If you still have some doubts, trust your instincts and make further inquiries. If something does not look right, it probably is not. If you are still having second thoughts on the validity of the website, please go back and revisit the questions listed above.


Additional Reading

Purdue Online Writing Lab: Evaluating Sources: Overview

Kathy Schrock’s Guide to Everything: Critical Evaluation of Information


References

Branham, C. (1997, March 27). Evaluating web pages for relevance. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from http://www.slu.edu/colleges/AS/ENG/cai/research/page01.html

Harvard guide to using sources. (2017). Evaluating Resources. Retrieved from http://isites.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do?keyword=k70847&pageid=icb.page346375

Quackit. (2017). Country domain extensions. Retrieved from http://www.quackit.com/domain-names/country_domain_extensions.cfm

Quackit. (2017). Domain name extension definitions. Retrieved from http://www.quackit.com/domain-names/domain_name_extension_definitions.cfm

SEQ Legal. (2017).Website Disclaimer. Retrieved from http://www.seqlegal.com/free-legal-documents/website-disclaimer