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Junior Research: Web Searching

Evaluating Web Sources

Websites can provide up-to-date information and can quickly lead you to further information. 

How do you know if a website's information is:

  • authoritative  
  • accurate
  • current
  • objective
  • appropriate?

The crucial TRICK is to evaluate if you have a "good" website.

Tacoma Community College

ABCs of Evaluating Websites

Use these ABCs as a guide to critically evaluate information on the Web.

  1. Authority 
    Who or what organization is publishing the content?  Do they have the knowledge and expertise to publish information about this topic? This information is often found in the About Us or Contact section of a site.  

  2. Bias/Purpose 
    Is this a commercial site that is trying to sell a service or a product or a site that exists primarily to educate? Does the publishing group and/or author have a bias?   Are there multiple points-of-view analyzed and expressed?  

  3. Content 
    Does the content fit the research question/assignment? Is the information correct? Read background information about your topic from a reputable source such as a textbook or database first.  

  4. Currency 
    Is there a publication or update date attached to the article or site? Look at the end of an entry or the bottom of a page.

Web Address Clues

Look at the web address for clues about the quality of the information. The last part of a website address is the domain suffix and can give you an idea about the quality of the site. Some common examples are .com, .org, .net, .edu, and .gov.

Restricted top level domains (only qualified entities can use these domains):

  • .edu - associated with a U.S. school, school district, or university
  • .gov - created by the U.S. government

Unrestricted top level domains (anyone, good or bad, can use these domains):

  • .com - created by a commercial entity
  • .org - created by an organization
  • .net = personal or other site

Pitt Community College

Credible Websites?

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Evaluating Websites - (Gulf Coast State College)

Common Pitfalls

Library databases:

The information is from an article in a library database. Therefore, the source must be objective!

Not so fast!

Library databases may include articles from newspapers and magazines, including opinion pieces and editorials that are written from authors' personal viewpoints.

Scratching beneath the surface:

You click on the "About" section of the source's web page where it describes itself as an "unbiased non-profit" think tank. That sounds good, but that is the source writing about itself. 

It is best to see if you can find some information about the organization somewhere else--like another web site, or a magazine or newspaper article. Does the source claim to have won awards? Look into the award and check.

Tacoma Community College

Spotlight on Bias

The New Oxford American Dictionary describes bias as:

“prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.” 

Sometimes it is easy to determine if a particular website is biased especially around a controversial issue, other times it can be extremely difficult to determine a site’s bias.  It is especially difficult to determine bias when an author does not state their credentials when posting an article on a website or a blog or when reviewing a site that uses a name that doesn’t give away its purpose.  

Here are some tips for determining bias:

  1. Go to the About Us or Contact Us section of the website to find out who publishes the site and other information such as where the organization is located and its purpose or mission. 
  2. Go to the Resources or Links pages to see what other sites the site recommends viewing or what organizations the site promotes.
  3. Google the author or organization to find out if the organization has been in the news.
  4. Ask a librarian or teacher to see if they know about a particular site or organization.

Bias in Context

Does it matter if the source is biased?

If you are writing a research paper about cancer treatments, you will most likely need balanced, objective information.

On the other hand...

... if you are writing an argumentative paper, you will need information about all points of view on a given topic. In this case, it's important that you recognize the bias, rather than avoid it.

Tacoma Community College

Media Bias

"Bias is normal. Remember, there is no such thing as unbiased news. The best we can do is create balance and get multiple perspectives". AllSides

Check out the media bias ratings of nearly 600 media outlets.