Skip to Main Content

Research 101

The steps of the research process & how to apply them.

3b. Evaluate Popular Sources

Double-Check Your Sources

The internet offers the most convenient source of information but also the widest possible range of quality. There is no sure-fire way to make sure your sources, especially sources from the web, are correct, but following the instructions here will help you avoid hoaxes or other dubious sources.

Basics of Web Evaluation

In , Jim Kapoun proposed five key criteria.

Some things on the web have changed, but most of his rules are still good. Here is a summary of his suggestions:

Table 1
Five Criteria for Evaluating Web Pages
#Evaluation of Web DocumentsHow to Interpret the Basics

Accuracy of Web Documents

  • Who wrote the page and can you contact him or her?
  • What is the purpose of the document and why was it produced?
  • Is this person qualified to write this document?


  • Make sure author provides email or a contact address / phone number.
  • Know the distinction between author and webmaster.

Authority of Web Documents

  • Who published the document and is it separate from the “webmaster”?
  • Check the domain of the document; what institution publishes this document?
  • Does the publisher list his or her qualifications?


  • What credentials are listed for the authors?
  • Where is the document published? Check URL domain.

Objectivity of Web Documents

  • What goals / objectives does this page meet?
  • How detailed is the information?
  • What opinions (if any) are expressed by the author?


  • Determine if page is a mask for advertising; if so, information might be biased.
  • View any webpage as you would an infomercial on television. Ask yourself why this was written and for whom?

Currency of Web Documents

  • When was it produced?
  • When was it updated?
  • How up-to-date are the links (if any)?


  • How many dead links are on the page?
  • Are the links current or updated regularly?
  • Is the information on the page outdated?

Coverage of the Web Documents

  • Are the links (if any) evaluated and do they complement the document’s theme?
  • Is it all images or a balance of text and images?
  • Is the information cited correctly?


  • If a page requires special software to view the information, how much are you missing if you don’t have the software?
  • Is it free or is there a fee to obtain the information?
  • Is there an option for text only, or frames, or a suggested browser for better viewing?
Putting It All Together
  • Accuracy. If your page lists the author and institution that published the page and provides a way of contacting him / her and …

  • Authority. If your page lists the author credentials and its domain is preferred (.edu, .gov, .org, or .net), and …

  • Objectivity. If your page provides accurate information with limited advertising and it is objective in presenting the information, and …

  • Currency.. If your page is current and updated regularly (as stated on the page) and the links (if any) are also up to date, and …

  • Coverage. If you can view the information properly—not limited to fees, browser technology, or software requirement, then …

You may have a higher-quality webpage that could be of value to your research!

Note. From “Teaching Undergrads Web Evaluation: A Guide for Library Instruction,” by J. Kapoun, , College & Research Libraries News, 59(7), p. 523. Copyright by the American Library Association.

What’s Changed

A few things are different today from when Kapoun made his table:

  • Amount of advertising is, at best, a slender indicator.

    Most websites depend on advertising revenue, and even legitimate news sites have extensive ads. Extremely heavy advertising, however, may still indicate poor quality.

  • A paywall does not indicate poor quality.

    Much good information is free, but most academic journals and some prominent news sites require subscriptions or payment.

  • The domains .net and .org are no longer indicators of quality.

    Their information may be bad or good. However, .edu indicates an educational institution, usually a university, and .gov is exclusive to U.S. government organizations.

  • The webmaster is unimportant.

    Most websites are hosted by organizations otherwise unassociated with their content. The author and publisher are who matter.

  • Few websites require special software.

    Flash, used for video, is deprecated, as are most similar proprietary media plugins. Modern browsers are designed to handle almost any site; if a site requires a plugin or recommends a particular browser, it (or at least its structure) is probably out of date.

What Hasn’t Changed

And some things are the same:

  • You should know who produced the information.

    You should be able to identify a specific author or organization that made the content. Search elsewhere on the web for this individual or organization’s credentials.

  • You should know if the information is current.

    Some indication of the date of publication (not the same as a copyright date) should be available. Numerous dead links are a sign that a page is out of date.

  • Your source should cite its sources.

    Most information on the web is second- or third-hand. A good website should cite its sources if it isn’t a well-known authority.

  • You should find other sources.

    The best way to tell if information is reliable is to get it from more than one source. If information is shoddy or a site is dubious, someone else has probably criticized it already. But even if your information is good, multiple sources can give you more perspectives.

How to Find a Date

On the web, as in the real world, a date can be hard to find.

If the date of publication is not readily visible, try these techniques, taken from Malik ():

  • Scan the page. The date may be present but not where you expect it. Look closely.

  • Look at the URL. Some web pages, especially blogs, will have the date of an article built into the URL, so look at your brower’s address bar.

  • Check the sitemap. Typically, a website has an XML sitemap located at [website URL]/sitemap.xml. This file may reveal dates when the pages were last modified.

  • Look at the source code. In most browsers, you can right-click on a webpage and select View page source to see the raw HTML. In the <head> section, you may find metadata telling you when the page was published.

  • Use the Wayback Machine. The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine may have cached versions of the page. The first indexed version may be close to the publication date.

  • Use Google. Google’s date of indexing is usually close to the publication date.

    1. Type inurl: into Google search, followed by the address of the webpage in question.

    2. Once you get the search results, move your cursor to the end of the URL in your address bar and add &as_qdr=y15.

    3. When you hit enter, Google should show you results with indexing dates.

Note: Many web pages have copyright dates in their footers. The copyright date is not a date of publication and may automatically update on a yearly basis.

Figure 1
How to Evaluate Websites
Infographic recommending checking a website for relevancy, accuracy, and currency by first skimming and then focusing on key information.

Note. From “How to Evaluate Websites: A Guide for Teachers and Students (Free Poster),” by K. Morris, , Kathleen Morris: Primary Tech ( CC BY-NC-ND.