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COM 010 - Ironside: Evaluating Web sources

Research Guide for COM 010

Evaluating Websites on the Internet

Ownership & Authorship
  • Who is the "publisher" of the web site?
    • Is the publisher the official site for an association?
    • Is the publisher a recognized authority in the field?
    • Is there an address, phone number, or other contact information provided for the publisher?
    • Will it be possible to find background information about this publisher?
    • Is this publisher an appropriate resource for the information being presented?
  • Who is the author?
    • Is a personal author identified for the information, articles, or documents presented at the web site? 
    • Do you know that this author is respected in his/her field? Is it clear what his/her credentials are?
    • Is there biographical information provided? Will it be possible to find background information about this author?
    • Is there a way to contact the author?

Tip: A reference librarian may be able to recommend resources which will help you learn more about the publisher and author!

Point of View, Bias, or Objectivity
  • First, use the "domain" of the URL to determine what type of site you are looking at:
    • .edu = educational site
    • .com = commercial site
    • .gov = U.S. government site
    • .org = non-profit organization site (usually, but not always)
    • .mil = U.S. military sites and agencies
    • .net = networks/Internet Service Providers
    • ~    = usually indicates a personal home page
  • Is the publisher of the site likely to have any particular agenda (e.g. political, philosophical, commercial)?
  • Does the author appear to have a particular bias?

Tip: When in doubt, search for domain name ownership information at WHOIS.

Content & Scope
  • What is the purpose of the web site?  Why is this information being provided? Is it:
    • scholarly research?
    • general educational or factual information?
    • an editorial or persuasive argument?
    • a sales pitch?
    • an advertisement?
    • entertainment?
    • misinformation?
    • a hoax?
  • Who is the intended audience? 
  • Does the information presented appear to be complete and comprehensive?
  • Are there links provided to other sources of information on this same topic?  
Accuracy
  • If this is a research document is there an explanation of the research method(s) used?
  • Is there a bibliography?
  • When statistics and other types of factual data are presented are they cited so that they may be verified?
  • Is the document generally well-written?  Free of spelling mistakes?  Free of typographical errors?
Currency
  • Is currency important to the type of information being presented? (For some types of information currency may not be important).
  • Are any of the following dates provided?
    • creation date
    • post date
    • revision date
  • In cases where there is statistical data or factual data is it indicated when that data was gathered?
  • Does the information seem to be out-of-date and therefore irrelevant and/or unreliable?
  • Do the links provided on the site work (i.e. do they get you where you need to go)?
Compare, Contrast, Confirm
  • How does the information presented on the web site compare to information you have gathered elsewhere - including other web sites, books, journal articles, interviews, etc.?
  • Do the theories or information presented agree or disagree with established scholarship or widely held points of view?
  • Can data and pieces of factual information be confirmed using other sources?

Zimdar's list of questionable news sources

Dr. Melissa Zimdars is a professor of Communication and Media at Merrimack College in Massachusetts. She compiles a detailed list of all types of questionable news sites from satirical to just plain false.  

Otera's graphic for reliable news sources

Vanessa Otera, a patent attorney, created this graphic of reliable news outlets: