Evaluating information that you find on the open web poses a few challenges that traditional formats don't. This page should help you ask the right questions of the information you find so that you can determine whether it is appropriate to use as a source in your own research.
To get started, keep these ABCs in mind as you review your sources for quality:
(Author)ity: Who wrote it? Where was it published? Is the author listed along with his/her credentials? Usually a URL with .edu, .org. or .gov is more reliable than .com and .net.
Bias: Is the online resource objective, presenting both sides of an issue? Or is the information presented to sway the audience to a particular point of view? Who is the audience--a certain political group, adults, children, researchers? Depending on your purpose for using the web resource, the intended audience needs to be taken into consideration.
Currency/Credibility: Is the website current, providing the 'created' date and 'last updated' information? For example, medical and scientific information usually needs to be current. But currency alone doesn’t verify the credibility of this type of resource. Does the website mention/link to a study or source? Look up the source/study. Do you think it’s being accurately reflected and reported? Are officials being cited? Can you confirm their quotes elsewhere?
Keep in Mind: One or more of the ABCs may be more important in evaluating a website, depending on the information you need. For example, medical and scientific information usually needs to be current. If you are trying to take a stand on an issue, a biased source may be acceptable as long as it is coming from a reliable source (authority).
The first place to begin evaluating content found on websites is to look at the domain, which you can find in the website's URL. The domain can tell you a lot about the type of content that the website includes and can help you to quickly evaluate whether or not information from that type of site would be appropriate for your needs.
Below you'll find information about some of the most common domains that you will encounter, but it certainly doesn't represent all of them. If you need more help identifying and evaluating a domain that isn't familiar, try consulting this guide to False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and/or Satirical “News” Sources
The .com domain indicates that the information you've found comes from a commercial website. That means that either the website sells advertising to support itself (such as CNN or the New York Times) or that it's trying to sell you something (like Amazon). If you're looking for current news, then CNN.com might be an appropriate source to use. But if you're looking for reliable statistics, in-depth research, or more scholarly or academic information, then a .com isn't usually the best source. Here's a sample search result from a .com domain:
The .org domain indicates that the information you've found comes from a nonprofit organization. Remember to check the "About" section of any nonprofit organization's website to find out more about them. For example, nonprofits can span everything from Wikipedia to professional societies and associations (such as the American Cancer Society) to political advocacy groups. Be sure to check who runs the organization and what their purpose is before relying on evidence from this type of website. Here's a sample search result from a .org domain:
The .gov domain indicates that the information you've found comes from a government website, including federal, state, and local governments. Use government websites to find statistics (such as census.gov), official records, and more authoritative information. Here's a sample search result from a .gov domain:
The .edu domain indicates that the information you've found comes from a college or university website. Remember to check to see what kind of information it is, since websites with the .edu domain can include news, blogs, personal opinions, and much more. Be sure to evaluate the type of content you've found before relying on it. Here's a sample search result from a .edu domain: