Skip to main content

Evaluating Sources Help Guide

You've found a source - but how do you know if it's the right source for your needs? This guide will discuss approaches to evaluating sources for your research.

Introduction

Some professors think that using the Internet or websites is an incorrect way to do research. If your professor has specified that you should only use scholarly or peer-reviewed sources, then the open Internet is not the right place for your research.

However, there is a lot of information available on the Internet. Primary sources exist on the Internet and, if you’re writing a paper on social media, you may need to quote or reference a website like Twitter.

As with all your research, it's important to know how to evaluate what you find online. A lot of what you find on the internet is not trustworthy - the content is biased or factually incorrect. Also, many websites deliberately post false or fake news just to increase their revenues. Despite that, there are many resources that are valid and useful. It is your job to be able to tell the difference.

Below is a simple list of criteria that you should use when evaluating a website.

Critiquing Websites

One of the things that many students neglect to do is critique the resources they use for a research project or paper. This is particularly true for information found through web searches.

For instructors and professors, it is always clear when a student has used something from an Internet source without thought or when a student has plainly copied from a source found online. (Google is also a great tool to find the original source for something that has been plagiarized.)

You will find yourself doing much better work when you use these basic criteria to assess the worth of an Internet source

Some of your assignments and research papers will require the use of websites - but the information gleaned from websites can't be used thoughtlessly. It must be critiqued.

These are fundamental criteria by which you judge a source of information:

  • Author
  • Date of Publication
  • Edition or Revision
  • Publisher
  • Intended Audience
  • Objective Reasoning
  • Coverage
  • Writing Style

Websites require a second level of scrutiny:

  • What can the URL tell you?
  • Who wrote the page? Are they or the authoring institution a qualified authority?
  • Is it dated? Current, timely?
  • Is information cited?
  • Does the page have overall integrity and reliability as a source?
  • What's the bias?
  • Could the page or site be ironic, like a satire or a spoof?
  • If you have questions or reservations, how can you satisfy them?

You can also download the worksheet below to help you evaluate websites.

Wikipedia

Let’s be honest, we all end up on Wikipedia at some point. Wikipedia is a great website because it has a TON of information all in one place. But, Wikipedia is an open website that anyone can add to or edit. Anyone. That means the information is not always trustworthy. Well-known people and companies will edit their own pages to make themselves look better or to hide damaging or embarrassing information. Controversial topics will be edited to sway opinions. Some people will also edit pages just to be funny or trendy.

Wikipedia acknowledges this problem and keeps a page of known hoaxes. You can read that page here.

You should NEVER cite Wikipedia in an academic assignment. But, Wikipedia can still be useful. You can use the website to get a summary or background information on a topic. Wikipedia also tries to include citations to other sources. These are located at the bottom of each page. If you want to use information you found in Wikipedia, it’s important to see where the information originated. You can read those sources and, oftentimes, will be able to use them in your paper

Google

Google is one of the best known search engines on the Internet. It can take you to practically every corner of the open web - whether you’re looking for pictures, recipes, celebrity news, items to purchase, or research for your assignments.

Google is a great tool but it is NOT an academic resource. You can find great resources through Google, but you should always evaluate the websites it shows. Google ranks its results according to an algorithm that puts the most popular results first. Popularity does not make a resource trustworthy, so always be sure to evaluate and verify the information you find.

One area of Google that is more reliable is Google Scholar. Google Scholar searches more scholarly journals and websites. You can search across many disciplines and sources including articles, theses, books, abstracts, and court opinions. The results are drawn from academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities, and other websites. If you’re on campus, it may even take you directly to a UDC Library resource!

Internet Sources for Research

Want to learn more about Internet sources for research? We have a whole guide on the subject.