Evaluating Websites

Seth Ward

 

Evaluating the authority and utility of websites can be a difficult task. Anyone can, and does, put up a website and while they are highly useful and readily “Googled,” care should be used in determining the source, reliability and biases of the information, judgments and opinions they contain.

 

The most important concern is often whether you can identify the author or editor of the web material. This is not always so easy, but the more you know about the person or institution that created the website the more you can assess bias and purpose. Is there an institution that stands behind the website?

 

How does the material in the website relate to the purpose of the individual or institution that produced or maintains the website? For example, a website produced by the State Department may well have a bias in supporting US policies and activities abroad that is quite evident and pronounced in analysis and opinion posted on its websites. Note, however, that it might also have a very different commitment in news reports and publication of documents: accuracy and unbiased information. 

 

Another indicator is advertising: to what extent is this website oriented towards information or towards sales?  

 

Publication also is a valuable indicator: Was the internet resource also published in printed form?

 

The criteria in the websites listed below—posted by university library websites-- may be used in evaluating websites as well as published books and articles.

 

http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/TeachingLib/Guides/Internet/Evaluate.html

http://web.alfredstate.edu/library/CRAAP%20worksheet%20and%20criteria%203-03%20.doc.

 

The CRAAP test seems to be the most popular, but use it with caution. When applied to traditional print resources, for example, non-current books, some of these tests are less important: books that are 4 or 5 years old are not outdate, at least not in some fields, and the fact that there is more current research is important to you but should not necessarily preclude utilizing the books. Likewise, the New York Times and the National Enquirer are both commercial enterprises, but just because they both sell product (newspapers) and advertising does not mean they are of similar value. Wikipedia articles are not signed, which means that assigning authorship is impossible—but they are “peer-reviewed” in the sense that any peer can rewrite the entry. However, determining whether the Wikipedia entry has a point of view that needs to be taken into consideration when assessing it is not always easy for those unfamiliar with a subject—a problem which one could say also obtains with encyclopedias, books and the traditional research resources.