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A Student’s Guide to Evaluating Internet Sources and Information

The Internet is home to a tremendous amount of information, but not all of it is reliable or true. Since anyone is free to build whatever website they wish, much of the information available isn't subject to the same level of quality control found in resources like scholarly journals. Many Internet resources don't undergo any editing or fact-checking to ensure that the information is truthful and accurate. It is often up to Internet users to evaluate whether or not information is credible.

To determine the credibility of a website, use the ABCs of Internet source evaluation:

  • Accuracy: Is the information verifiable as true?
  • Authority: Is the author or website trustworthy regarding the subject?
  • Bias: Is the information presented objectively?
  • Coverage: How comprehensive is the information?
  • Currency: How recently was the information published?

Accuracy

To evaluate the accuracy of the information in Internet resources, you should ask:

  • Are specific sources cited by the author? And if so, are they reliable? Check the bibliography, footnotes, or reference list.
  • Can another source verify the information? Ensure that the information is available from more than one source.
  • Did editors or reviewers fact-check the information?
  • Does the information contain spelling or grammar errors? Poorly written content may indicate poorly researched information.

Authority

To evaluate whether an Internet resource is authoritative, you should ask:

  • Does the website display the author's name and credentials? Is the author part of a respected organization or institution, such as a university?
  • Who oversees the website?
  • What was the purpose of creating the website? Check the "about" or "background" sections to find out where the information originates.
  • What type of website is it? Personal blogs or social media websites like Facebook and Twitter will require you to closely review the author's level of experience to determine authority.
  • What type of domain is the information on? Domains that end in .edu, .com, .biz, .gov, and .org can give you an insight into a website's credibility.

Bias

To evaluate whether an Internet resource has a bias, you should ask:

  • Is the information presented fact-based or opinion-based? Review the citations.
  • Does the information have a political or religious motivation? Check sections titled "about," "purpose," or "mission statement" to evaluate the author's purpose in creating the information.
  • Is the information on the website presented to entertain or inform?
  • Does the information contain advertisements for a brand, product, or service, or are they separate from the content?

Coverage

To evaluate how comprehensive the coverage of Internet resources is, you should ask:

  • Is any relevant information excluded from the page? Check all pages on a website or any relevant links to search for missing information.
  • Does the coverage of the subject matter go in depth? Are enough details provided?
  • Who is the intended audience for the information? Information created for students or the general public may not be sufficiently detailed.
  • Is the information presented on a commercial website? Be wary of sites that require you to pay for access to all of the information.
  • Is the website the best available source for the information? More comprehensive coverage may be found in other sources.

Currency

To evaluate how current an Internet resource is, you should ask:

  • When was the information first published?
  • Has the page been kept up to date? If a page contains several broken links, that may indicate that the information has not been updated in a while.
  • How current does the information need to be to meet your research needs?

Additional Reading on Evaluating Internet Resources

David Dungan

Dave is a digital marketing manager at Qualtrics and writes on a wide range of topics aimed at providing useful information to our diverse audience. He lives in Dublin, Ireland and is an avid martial arts, sports, music, and technology enthusiast.

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