Most information that is published on the Web is not filtered and evaluated like books, journals, magazines, or newspapers. Since there are no guidelines for publishing on the Web, it is important to evaluate Web sites before including them in a research paper or using them for other purposes.
Before using information found on the Web, there are five basic criteria to consider:
- Accuracy: it is important that the information is factual and reliable. You should question if the information was verified for accuracy before being placed on the Web. Consult print sources for verifications such as reference sources.
- Authority: be sure to question what is the author's qualification for writing on the subject. Look to see if it is clear who has responsibility for publishing the information and if there is an email address and/or resume. Determine if the publisher or company is reputable. Biographical sources are useful for getting background information on authors. Company directories and guides are useful for getting information on publishers and companies.
- Currency: determine if the content of the sources is up-to-date, if the publication date is shown, when the Web site was last updated, and the frequency for editions and revisions. Depending on the topic you are writing, time sensitive materials may be required.
- Coverage: look at the scope of the topics and materials included in the work or website. Review the website and compare its comprehensiveness to similar sites.
- Objectivity: consider if the website shows evidence of being bias. It is important to determine what audience the site is intended for.