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Evaluating Websites

CREDIBLITY Card IconCREDIBLITYTop of Page

Goal: A source that is created by a person or organization who knows the subject and who cares about its quality
  1. Is there a publishing or sponsoring organization? 
  2. Is the organization an authority on the subject?
  3. Is the author listed? 
  4. Is the author an authority on the subject? 
  5. How do you know?
Are there spelling errors, grammar errors, dead links, or other problems that indicate a lack of  quality control? 
 

Clues Your Source Lacks Credibility

  • Anonymity 
  • Lack of Quality Control 
  • Negative Metainformation. If all the reviews are critical, be careful.
  • Bad grammar or lots of misspelled words. Whether the errors come from carelessness or ignorance, neither puts the information or the writer in a favorable light. 
  • Emotional earnestness accompanied by exaggeration or absolutes. Even in very controversial areas (gun control, global warming, abortion, capital punishment) and promotional contexts (product claims and evaluations) we expect reasons, data, and emotional restraint. Articles where the writer's feelings have clearly taken over from thinking make us wonder if we are reading ideology instead of information and arguments that might persuade us.
  • Claims of unique, secret information (which is now on the Web site) or claims of such dramatic implications that you should expect widespread discussion. For example, "The CIA was responsible for the assassination of President
  • Kennedy." Conspiracy theories in general, because they run counter to official reports and often counter to reason, should be met with great caution.
 

ACCURACY Card IconACCURACYTop of Page

Goal: A source with information that is current, complete, and correct
  1. Does the information on the site agree with other sources?
  2. Does the site contradict itself?
  3. What is the date of publication or copyright?
  4. How recently has the site been updated? 
Clues Your Source Lacks Accuracy:
  • No date on the document 
  • Vague or sweeping generalizations 
  • Old date on information known to change rapidly
  • Very one sided view that does not acknowledge opposing views or respond to them
 

REASONABLENESS Card IconREASONABLENESSTop of Page

Goal: A source that is truthful and unbiased
  1. Does the author, host, publisher, or sponsor have a bias?
  2. What is the motivation or purpose for creating the site?  (To sell a product? To advance a viewpoint or belief? To educate?) 
 
Clues Your Source Lacks Reasonableness:
  • Intemperate tone or language ("stupid jerks," "shrill cries of my extremist opponents") 
  • Overclaims ("Thousands of children are murdered every day in the United States.") 
  • Sweeping statements of excessive significance ("This is the most important idea ever conceived!") 
  • Conflict of Interest ("Welcome to the Old Stogie Tobacco Company Home Page. To read our report, 'Cigarettes Make You Live Longer,' click here." or "The products our competitors make are dangerous and bad for your health.")
 

SUPPORT Card IconSUPPORTTop of Page

Goal: A source with verifiable sources of information
  1. Are the sources listed? Can they be checked?
  2. Is there a way to contact the author or organization?
 
Clues Your Source Lacks Support:
  • Numbers or statistics presented without an identified source for them 
  • Absence of source documentation when the discussion clearly needs such documentation 
  • You cannot find any other sources that present the same information or acknowledge that the same information exists (lack of corroboration)
 

ADAPTED_FOR_EDUCATIONAL_PURPOSES_FROM: Card IconADAPTED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES FROM:Top of Page

Harris, Robert. "Evaluating Internet Research Sources." Virtual Salt, 12 Dec. 2016, www.virtualsalt.com/evalu8it.htm. Accessed 25 Jan. 2018.
 
Spinks, Andy. "Evaluating Websites." AndySpinks.com. 2015, andyspinks.com/evaluating-websites/. Accessed 25 Jan. 2018.
 

DOCUMENTS Card IconDOCUMENTSTop of Page

C.A.R.S._CHECKLIST_FOR_EVALUATING_INTERNET_SOURCES Card IconC.A.R.S. CHECKLIST FOR EVALUATING INTERNET SOURCESTop of Page

The C.A.R.S. Checklist (Credibility, Accuracy, Reasonableness, Support) makes evaluating sources easier.  While it is difficult for any source to meet every single criteria in the checklist, the checklist is designed to help you have an easier time selecting higher quality sources over lower quality ones.

Note: All material on this page is adapted from material available on Robert Harris's and Andy Spink's websites for educational purposes only.
 

FINDING_THE_INFO Card IconFINDING THE INFOTop of Page

Ideally, information such as the author, host organization, and publication date will be easily located at either the top or bottom of the page.  However, you may need to dig deeper: 
  • You can find out about the host organization by looking at the URL, especially the domain name  (i.e., cnn.com, harvard.edu, cdc.gov). There are no universal rules for which domains are good  or bad, but the domain name can help you identify the host organization.
  • The information you need might even be on a different page.  Try clicking on “About…” or  “Contact Us” to find more information.  You can also just enter the domain name without  anything past the first slash (i.e., shorten “virtualsalt.com/evalu8it.htm” to “virtualsalt.com”) and  see what information you find.
 

NOTE: Card IconNOTE:Top of Page

Many of the elements you need to create your Works Cited entry (author, publisher, date, etc.) are the same ones you need to evaluate its quality.  If more than a few of these are missing, the site is probably not a good one!
 

CAFE_ADVICE Card IconCAFE ADVICETop of Page

Here is one last piece of advice to help you live well in the world of information: Take your information to the Café (Challenge, Adapt, File, Evaluate).
 

Challenge

Challenge information and demand accountability. Stand right up to the information and ask questions. Who says so? Why do they say so? Why was this information created? Why should I believe it? Why should I trust this source? How is it known to be true? Is it the whole truth? Is the argument reasonable? Who supports it?

Adapt

Adapt your skepticism and requirements for quality to fit the importance of the information and what is being claimed. Require more credibility and evidence for stronger claims. You are right to be a little skeptical of dramatic information or information that conflicts with commonly accepted ideas. The new information may be true, but you should require a robust amount of evidence from highly credible sources.

File

File new information in your mind rather than immediately believing or disbelieving it. Avoid premature closure. Do not jump to a conclusion or come to a decision too quickly. It is fine simply to remember that someone claims XYZ to be the case. You need not worry about believing or disbelieving the claim right away. Wait until more information comes in, you have time to think about the issue, and you gain more general knowledge.

Evaluate

Evaluate and re-evaluate regularly. New information or changing circumstances will affect the accuracy and hence your evaluation of previous information. Recognize the dynamic, fluid nature of information.