The Internet provides access to virtually endless numbers of articles on just about any subject. The following steps will help you understand the “story behind the story” in online materials and also evaluate the reliability of the material, especially if this is a reading you selected yourself for research or independent work.
Unlike library resources that have been carefully selected by professionals, the information that you find on the internet may not be suitable for academic purposes. This means that you need to critically evaluate what you find before you use it.
Criteria for evaluating
You need to consider six important criteria before you decide to use a website in your research. This mnemonic is an easy way to remember these criteria:
So before you cite a website in your research, ask yourself:
‘Could this be a BAD URL?’
is for Bias
Bias is a slant towards a particular point of view. Check the page for evidence of bias, such as language that tries to sway your opinion. Think about what motivated the author to create the page. Are they trying to inform and explain; or are they trying to rant, rave, sell, persuade, or entice? Is the author connected to an organisation that might influence their treatment of the topic? Are alternative views considered? Has anything been deliberately left out? A good site will be fair, balanced, and objective.
is for Authority
Who created the page? Look for names of people with authority in the subject, not just organisations. What makes the author an expert? What else have they written? Are they affiliated with a university, business, or organisation? Check the associated site to confirm their status. Do they provide any contact details? Look them up in a library database or Google Scholar to see what else they have written and if others have cited them.
is for Date
Are you looking for current information? There should be a date on the page (date created, published, modified, updated, or revised). If you can’t find a date, be wary!
is for URL
The URL can tell you a lot about a site. Who published the site which could give an indication as to their motivation. A person’s name or a tilde (~) symbol in the URL indicates a personal site. Look at the domain name (the first part of the URL between http:// and the next /). What does it end with?
|Domain||Type of site|
|.edu or .ac||Educational or academic institution|
|.gov or govt.||Government site|
|.com or .co||Commercial site|
|.net||A site hosted by an Internet Service Provider (ISP)|
Academic or educational sites are more likely to be reliable for academic research. However, academics sometimes post material on other domains (e.g. .com or personal pages).
Being able to read the URL will give you information about the relevance, credibility and origin of the website.
is for Relevance
Is the site actually relevant to your research topic? Consider the level of information required. Who is the site is aimed at (children, consumers, the general public, students, academics, experts)? Oversimplified or generalised information may not be appropriate if you are writing for an expert or academic audience.
is for Links
Do all of the links work? Dead links indicate a poorly maintained site. Links to poor quality sites weaken the pages credibility. Look for links to reliable supporting evidence and quality sources. Do other reputable sites provide links to the site that you are evaluating?
To find out, go to Google and type link: followed by the URL of the site you are evaluating (e.g. link:http://studentservices.op.ac.nz/). Are they quality sites? If you don’t find any links, the site may be very new, or it may not be well thought of by other experts.
This work includes material from the following sources:
Searching on the net. Queensland University of Technology. Retrieved from http://studywell.library.qut.edu.au/pdf_files/RESEARCHING_SearchingontheNet.pdf Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
Hero image: Water splash. PublicDomainPictures. Retrieved from: https://pixabay.com/en/splashing-splash-aqua-water-rain-275950/ Licensed under Creative Commons CC0 Universal