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Introductory Biology: Evaluating Web

Evaluating web resources

Since information on the web can be created by anyone and because many sites do not go through a formal screening process, it is important to evaluate the websites you use for credibility, and authority, and accuracy. It is not always easy to determine if information on the World Wide Web is credible. The following criteria can help you to determine the quality of the information you find on the web. 

 Authority & Credibility: The source of the information        

  • Who is the author of this page?
  • What are their credentials? Are they affiliated with an institution?
  • What are the author's qualifications to write on this topic? 
  • Does the site display this information? Contact information given? 
  • What does the URL reveal about the page? 
    • .org  -- non-profit organization 
    • .edu -- educational institution 
    • .gov -- government organization 
    • .com -- commercial site 

 Accuracy: The reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the content       

  • Is the information supported by evidence? Is the evidence cited? 
  • It's always a good idea to cross-reference information no matter where you find it.
  • Do graphics add or detract from the content? Is there inflammatory content?
  • Is the information complete or fragmented?

Objectivity: The reason the information exists      

  • What is the purpose of this page? To inform? Persuade? Sell? Entertain? Rant? 
  • Does the author state the goals for this site?
  • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
  • If the author is affiliated with an institution (government, university, business, etc.), does this affiliation bias the information presented? 

 Currency: The timeliness of the information     

  • When was this page created?  Is there a revision/creation date?
  • Do the links work?
  • Is the page maintained and up-to-date?

Coverage & Relevancy: The importance of the information for your needs   

  • Is the information is adequately covered on this website?
  • How does this information compare the information with information found on other websites
  • How does this information compare with information you would find in print sources (books, journals, reports)?  
  • Does the site provide more references, more contacts?

For more tips see
The Georgetown University Library [Guide] Evaluating Internet Resources  

Library Handout: Guide to Evaluating Sources

Web Searching Caution

Using the web for research can be problematic because the web has uneven quality, authorship of sites can be uncertain, articles may be biased/have an agenda, citations are rarely provided and information is often brief and has little depth.

About using Wikipedia

Wikipedia is a great tool for a summary of a topic. Wikipedia content is constantly revised, and entries vary in quality. Some of the content is excellent, some is questionable.

Many educators frown on the use of Wikipedia. Why?

  • Wikipedia content is not necessarily written by subject experts, and may be inadequate or incorrect.
  • Articles in Wikipedia may be changed or deleted between viewings.
  • For research papers, you need authoritative resources, so it is absolutely necessary to consult other sources.
  • Anyone can search Google or find a Wikipedia article. To demonstrate academic skill, it is important to go beyond these basic tools.

How can you use Wikipedia in a way that benefits your research process?

  • Scan the article to get general information and terms you can use as keywords for further searching.
  • Scan the article for references. Sometimes these can lead you to excellent books or articles that you can find at the EVC Library or through our collection of databases.
  • Don't reference Wikipedia articles in your paper, unless you are pointing out something specific to Wikipedia.
  • As you read Wikipedia articles, you may read notations that call for more evidence, or call attention to bias. These are very constructive principles that apply to your own work. What if Wikipedia editors read your work? Would they mark areas for revision?