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Effective Writing (ENL-111)

Library resources that reinforce the research, writing, and information-literacy skills that carry Augsburg students through their undergraduate years and beyond

Four Ways to Evaluate a Web Source

The Web is sneaky. It is flashy and pretty, but even a professional-looking website can harbor questionable scholarship ― ideas and “facts” that no one should take seriously, much less quote or cite in an academic paper.

Below is a short list of qualities you should look for anytime you find a source on the web: credibility, accuracy, the reasonableness of its opinions, and the support it provides for its conclusions.

Remember that you're not looking for perfection; no website will meet each and every one of these criteria. But a source that has most of these qualities is a better bet than one that has few or none.

1. Credibility

Answer these questions to judge whether the page's content and its author are reliable sources:

  • Can you tell who wrote the content ― a person, or an organization?
  • Are the author's credentials given (degrees earned, places worked, books written)?
  • Is this a subject on which they are a known authority?

2. Accuracy

Answer these questions to judge whether the content is up-to-date, comprehensive, and based on facts:

  • Can you easily find the year or date it was published?
  • When you double-check its facts against outside sources like a reference book, did they really happen?
  • Is it easy to see how the information is relevant to your project?

These online reference sources from Lindell Library give you background information that you can use to check the accuracy of a website's contents.

3. Reasonableness

Answer these questions to judge if the information is fair, consistent, and truthful:

  • Is the site presenting different sides of the argument in a fair, reasoned way?
  • Who is funding the website?
  • Does the source of funding have a product or opinion that this website is selling?

It's okay if the website or its sponsors are biased; there is no such thing as an unbiased source. But it should be clear that they are more concerned with presenting the truth and engaging reasonable opinion than with selling you a product.

4. Support

Answer these questions to judge whether the page's assertions are supported by convincing outside evidence:

  • Is it easy to find the sources on which the content is based, like a list of references?
  • Can you use information given on the webpage, like an author's name or a journal article's title, to trace a source back to the original?
  • Do those sources seem to meet the “credibility” criteria above?