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Ready resources: Evaluating website credibility

Check out this simple, easy-to-use Web Page Evaluation Checklist from the Teaching Library, UC Berkeley.

Or watch this 2 1/2-minute video that highlights some of the main criteria to check a website.

A few things to know about web sources...

Like most students, you are pressed for time. You need to find information quickly and efficiently. The natural solution: the Web. When you are searching for information online, keep in mind these points:

  • There is no quality control on the Web. Anyone can upload information and claim that it is "authoritative." 
  • Google does not search the whole Web
  • Every search engine does not return the same results
  • Even two people searching the same topic using the same search engine on the same day can retrieve different results (see this TED Talk on the topic)

What does the URL mean?

If you're not sure of the source of content on the Web, take a look at the top-level domain (part of the URL) to get an idea. Here are a few domains you might find:
  • .com = commercial, for-profit sites
  • .edu = educational institutions
  • .gov = government agencies
  • .org = nonprofit organizations
  • .pro = doctors, lawyers, accountants
  • .biz = businesses
  • .mil = military
  • .net = Internet service providers, which are companies that provide access to the Web; personal websites often have this top-level domain
  • .name = personal websites
  • .info = general top-level domains for individual sites, business, or organizations
  • countries (it. = Italy, kw = Kuwait)

An easy reviewing method

No matter what kind of source you're reviewing, it's important to consider whether this is a reliable source or has some sort of bias.  A quick tool to do that is this: the PACAC Method.

Purpose: What is the author's intent? To inform, instruct, educate, entertain, inspire, promote, persuade? What tact is he/she using? An appeal to emotion, morals, or logic?

Authority: Does the author have the necessary credentials or academic affiliation? Has the author written other scholarly, peer-reviewed books or articles on the topic? Does he/she have life experiences that inform his/her claims? 

Currency: (this, of course, varies depending on what you are studying) If you are doing historical research, you may want to use primary sources from the historical period you are studying. In other instances, you might need to consult the most-recently published resources in your field. (Take note of copyright dates or "last updated" dates at the bottom of webpages.)

Accuracy: Is the information provided correct? Has the book or article undergone peer review for fact checking and approval of methodolog(ies)? 

Content: Is the content relevant to your research question? Does it answer or address the questions that you have?


*For more on the PACAC Method, see: Quaratiello, A. & Devine, J. (2011). The college student’s research companion: Finding, evaluating, and citing the resources you need to succeed. New York, NY: Neal-Schuman Publishers.