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Writing Research Papers: Evaluating Websites

This guide is intended to provide help with topic selection, research tips and strategies, and citing sources.

Evaluating Web Resources

It is not always easy to determine if information on the World Wide Web is credible. However, using the guidelines below (C.R.R.A.P.P.) will help you in making that evaluation.

  • When was this page created?
  • Is there a creation or revision date?
  • Do the links work?
  • Is the page being maintained and new material added?
  • Is it important that this page be current, given my subject?
  • Does the article improve your understanding of the issue?
  • Is the article lengthy enough to be worthy of inclusion?
  • Does all of the article apply to your topic?
  • Is the content mostly opinion or is it stating facts?
  • Are there sloppy errors, such as bad grammar, misspelling, etc. which might indicate hastiness?
  • Does the author provide references for or sources of facts, data, or quotations?
  • Is the information complete or fragmented?
  • Is it a primary or secondary source of information?
  • Is the author relying on primary or secondary sources of information?
  • Can you confirm what the author is saying in another source?
  • Who is the author of this page?
  • What are their credentials?
  • Can you find more information about the author somewhere else?
  • What institution are they affiliated with?
  • Can you find more information about their institution somewhere else?
  • What is the purpose of this page?
  • Does the author intend to persuade you of something? Teach? Inform? Entertain? Provoke an emotional response? 
  • Does the author or the sponsoring organization state the goals for this site?
  • If the author is affiliated with an institution (government, university, business, organization, etc), does this affiliation bias the information presented?
  • If you search for the name of the author or their institution, can you find any evidence about what they stand for?

Remember to ask yourself:
"Is the Web the best place for this type of information, or would a print source from an electronic database be a better choice?"
Ask a librarian if you are unsure.

Tips on How to Evaluate Websites

As you know, people can say anything on the Web, true or false. Below are techniques you can use to judge whether or not a website is an appropriate source of information for college-level work.

One:  Find a date on it somewhere
You won’t always be able to find it, but try. Look at both the top and the bottom of the webpage. In general, any technological or medical topic requires that information be no older than five years. But if you are exploring an historical topic, like the life of Thomas Jefferson, the information could be much older.

Two:  Truncate the URL
To truncate a URL, chop pieces off the end of it (always after the slash / ) and hit enter in order to get to the homepage or other folders on the same website.  Using this technique, you can gather clues about who published the information and why.

For example, let’s look at the following URL:

Remember to always truncate at a slash ( / ). The URL above brings up a website with a list of all of the computer labs on campus, but if I chop of the end of it to this:

I get the LCC Information and Academic Technology website. To find the homepage of the sponsoring organization, chop it down to the top-level domain name:

Three:  Find a link to information about who they are
Click on any link that offers more information about the author. What are they known for?  Also click on links that offer information about the mission or background of the organization that posted the webpage. Look for a link such as “About Us,” or “What we do,” or “Who we are,” or “Mission.”  Any of these will give you valuable information about their intentions.  If a link like this isn’t on the webpage you’re looking at, truncate the URL to get to the homepage so you can look there too.

Four:  Look up the author's and organization’s names in Google
Sometimes there isn’t enough information and you might have to do a web search to find out more. Visit Google and search for the name of the author (in quotes) or the organization. You might find the personal website of the author, or you might find out that the organization has been discredited. You never know!

For more in-depth information, check out:
Evaluating Web Pages: Techniques to Apply & Questions to Ask
from UC Berkeley - Teaching Library Internet Workshops

Still unsure? Ask a librarian for help!

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