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Shapiro Library

Evaluating Sources

This guide will provide you with information that you can use to critically evaluate sources including websites, articles and reports, books and ebooks, etc.

What About Websites?

What's Different About Evaluating Websites?

It is particularly important that you evaluate any web resources you use (e.g. websites, blogs, wikis, etc.) because there is no editorial process for the web and anyone can post anything online. When evaluating web resources it is important to pay attention to details.

When evaluating websites, first ask yourself: How did you find the website?

  • Did a professor or another reliable source recommend it?
  • Was it cited in a scholarly or credible source?
  • Was it a link from a reputable website?
  • Did you find it by using a search engine like Google?

In addition to following the C.R.A.A.P.O. guidelines for evaluating sources, consider these 3 special criteria to consider when evaluating websites:

  • Domain
  • Last Updated Date
  • Functionality & Design

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Domain

Evaluating a website by its domain means that you are asking: What kind of website is it?

The domain is the end-part of the web site address. Most U.S.-based web sites use the following domains: .com, .org, .edu, and .gov. When evaluating websites, it's important to pay attention to the domain--this can provide valuable information about what the website may be used for, what information is available on the website, and how reliable it may be.

For example: compare Weather.com with Weather.gov. Both happen to be trusted web sites with good information. Weather.com is from the popular and well-known Weather Channel, while Weather.gov is from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a government agency.

The following is a description of the most popular Internet domains:

DOMAIN EXTENSION EXAMPLE MOST COMMONLY USED FOR TYPE OF INFORMATION AVAILBLE RELIABILITY
.com CNN: http://www.cnn.com/ commercial entity, business, or anything else Could be anything (this is a non-restrictive domain); many media outlets end in .com Low - Needs thorough evaluation
.org American Red Cross: http://www.redcross.org/ organization, non-profit, or anything else Could be anything (this is a non-restrictive domain); professional and medical organizations often use this domain Low - Needs thorough evaluation
.edu Southern New Hampshire University: http://www.snhu.edu/ educational institutions Information about the institution, content created by professionals working at the institution (be careful - some institutions allow non-experts to develop content for their websites) Medium - Needs evaluation
.gov U.S. Census Bureau: http://www.census.gov/ Government agency or department Local, City, State, & Federal information (information on these domains are regulated and require certification to be used) High - Needs some evaluation

For more information about domain extensions check out IANA: Root Zone Database and the video below:

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Last Updated Date

Evaluating a website by its last updated date means that you are asking: How current is the information provided here?

Most high-quality websites include a "Last Updated Date" to help you determine the currency of the information being provided on the website or web page. The "Last Updated Date" often appears at the bottom of websites or below the title/author information of an article. You may also need to look for an "About Us" section to find this information. If no "Last Updated Date" (or publication date) is available, you may have found a website with out-of-date information!

You should also check for broken or outdated links as this can also be a sign that the website you are using has not been updated in a while. Check out this video for more information:

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Functionality & Design

Evaluating a website by functionality and design means that you are asking: Is the web site functional and professional looking?

When considering the functionality and design of a website, ask yourself:

  • Is the website well organized and easy to navigate? Is there a site map or index? Is the site searchable (i.e. does it have a search box somewhere on the page)?
  • Are there spelling and grammatical errors on the website?
  • Is the website free of broken links and missing images?
  • Are there a lot of advertisements or pop-ups on the website?

What to avoid?

  • Websites that have broken links, missing pages, and that are difficult to navigate.
  • Websites that have a lot of advertisements and pop-ups.
EXAMPLES QUESTIONS TO ASK
Vegetarian Resource Group Is the information easy to locate? Can you use a search box? Is it modern looking?
The White House How well is the information organized? Is the site laid out in a logical manner?
Space Jam Is the information easy to locate? Can you use a search box? Is it modern looking?

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