Web Resource Evaluation: A Tutorial
Using a website as a resource in a research or academic paper can be tricky unless you follow a few guidelines. Since anyone can publish on the web without any review or evaluation it is up to you to examine websites critically. You want to be alert to the accuracy, authority, objectivity or bias of your resources. This checklist can help you determine if the website is a source your professors would find acceptable.
Criteria to examine are listed below. Look at the sites you are considering as sources and review this list of questions. The more positive responses you generate to these criteria, the more confident you can be about the value and authenticity of these websites.
Authorship & Authority
- Is the author of the website identified?
- Does the author have credentials that would be considered authoritative on this topic?
- If a sponsoring organization is responsible for the content of the website can you determine their authority in relationship to the topic?
- Is there a way to contact the author or sponsoring organization? Ideally the site should provide an email address and phone number as well as a street and city mailing address.
- Is there a bibliography or list of sources on which the stated information is based?
- If there are charts or statistics used in the website, are they clear and are the sources for this data cited?
- Is the website written without grammatical and spelling errors?
- Do the links included on the website work?
- Are the links out to remote sites relevant to the topic?
Objectivity and Purpose
- Does the website include a statement of purpose?
- Some websites are advocacy sites, promoting a particular position. If so can you find a clear statement of their mission?
- If there is advertising content on the website is it clear which information is factual and which is part of the promotional material? Are the sources for the facts cited?
- Does the website provide balanced information that shows both sides of an issue?
- Is the writing clear and appropriate, avoiding inflammatory statements or tirades?
Currency of the website
- Does the site provide a date of publication or date of the latest revision?
These questions are a good beginning to determine if a website will be appropriate to use for your project. At Lehigh, the librarians do evaluate web resources and add quite a few to our online catalog. The resources you discover this way should be more reliable and predictable, however it is still a good idea to be aware of the above standards for any website you visit.
If you are using MyLibrary in the Portal, to see evaluated web resources go to the Subject Reference channel.
If you’d like to learn more about this topic and the process of evaluating websites there are many useful tutorials which have been developed on this topic. Some interesting tutorials which expand upon this topic are listed below: