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Assessing the Credibility of Online Sources
As online technology rapidly develops, the criteria for evaluating these sources develops as well. Online sources are so new that their status as academic sources is not fully established; therefore, you should verify that your professor will accept online sources before you invest time in browsing the Web or assessing the credibility of sources you find there.
Once you've determined that online sources can be used, you'll still need to assess their credibility. The following criteria for assessing online sources will help you to determine whether electronic sources are both professional and appropriate for your paper. Keep in mind as you review these criteria that many are based on standards used for traditional print sources; others are clearly relevant for electronic sources only.
- Is the author identifiable? Never use a source whose author you cannot
identify. If the author is not clearly listed within the site, use the following
techniques to locate the author's name:
- link back to the site's home page;
- ask the Web development team or sponsoring organization to identify
- Is the author a professional in the field?
- If the author's name is unfamiliar, is the site linked to an established
authority on the subject?
- Has this author been referred to favorably by respected professionals
in the field or by a respectable Web site? Does the document contain links
to these professionals or to the respected Web sites? Are there also links
from these sources that go back to the site you're assessing?
- Does the author include his/her e-mail address or a mail-to: so that you
can contact the author directly from the site?
- Does the author include a way to contact him/her other than e-mail?
- Does the Web site belong to an individual, or is it part of a site maintained
by an organization, academic institution, or other group? Does it list the
author's position within this group?
- Is the type of material appropriate for the assignment? Professional sources
from the Web include professional home pages or online professional journals.
Non-professional sources include personal home pages or online general audience
- Is the site sponsored by a respected organization?
- Does the site include an official insignia of the organization sponsoring
- Are you able to contact the webmaster or sponsoring organization from
within the site?
- Can you identify the date created as well as date(s) revised?
- Does the site include information on how often the site is updated?
- Is a copyright date listed?
- Is there evidence of what Martin Irvine calls "linkrot"? Linkrotted sites
include links that no longer exist or have simply moved; this implies poor
upkeep of the site (138).
- Can you identify the goals of the site?
- Are these goals clearly stated?
- Does the focus of the text relate to the graphics in the site?
- Is the perspective appropriate for your paper?
- Are all sides of the issue fairly presented?
- Is there an in-depth understanding of the related issues that shows the
author's familiarity with the subject?
- Does the site include internal links that provide quick reference to the
main sections of the document? Internal links show the author has given
attention to the potential needs and questions a reader might have.
- Does the site acknowlege other sources within the text itself? Are there
also links to these sources if they exist online?
- Is the bibliography complete and thorough? Are links provided to the sources
that are available online?
- Are the appropriate theories, schools of thought, or techniques used in
the discussion of the material standard in the field?
- If the material is based on a new theory, is coverage of the new approach
detailed? Does the site cover the advantages and disadvantages of the method
compared to other current methods in the field?
Accuracy or verifiability
- Is the material comparable to related sources? The home page of an authority
in the field will provide a good base of sources to use as a comparison
for other sources.
- Is the methodology given so that the author's work can be replicated or
- Does the source include a bibliography and/or citations that can be used
for comparing or verifying data and other information?
- Are there links from the citations or the bibliography to the original
- Is the information in the text poorly presented compared to the graphics?
- Do many mechanical errors (e.g., grammatical errors, typos, etc.) appear
in the text? Errors suggest the author might be careless in presenting information.
- Did you discover the site via a search engine? If so, how does the search
engine you used look for information and, if relevent, rate the sites it
A few cautionary notes on saving Web materials
Saving to disk or printing a copy of the "pages" you plan to use as source
material is a good idea for two reasons. First, if the site is taken off the
Web, the source material will still be available to you. Second, you can use
this print or disk copy of the "pages" to enable readers to verify the credibility
of the site if they're unable for any reason to access it online. If you print
a hard copy of the pages, go to page layout on your computer and specify that
you want the date you accessed the site, the name of the site, and the URL
to appear in the header or footer of the hard copy. If you save your copy
of these pages to disk, add this information to your file copy so that it's
available when you're ready to document your source.
Finally, go back to the print source if possible. Use and document this version
since the print copy is still considered by many to be the authoritative version
of the resource for academic purposes.
Alexander, Jan and Marsha Tate. "Evaluating
Web Resources."15 Feb. 2004.
Grassian, Esther. "Thinking
Critically about World Wide Web Resources." 15 Feb. 2004.
Irvine, Martin. Web Works. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 1997.
Kirk, Elizabeth E. "Evaluating
Information Found on the Internet." 1996. Sheridan Libraries. 2004.
For additional references on assessing Internet sources, see the "Webliography
on Validating Web Sites" available at http://web.stcloudstate.edu/jmkilborn/webvalidation.html.
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© 1997-2005, The Write Place
This handout was adapted from the above references by Kaaren
Struthers for the Write Place and LEO, St. Cloud State University. It was
updated by Judith Kilborn. This document may be copied for educational purposes
only. If you copy this document, please include our copyright notice and
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Last update: 7 January 2005