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Website Evaluation: Introduction

Website Evaluation: An Introduction

Website Evaluation graphic

The ability to critically evaluate information is key to the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. Everyday, of course, each one of us is inundated by information. We feel compelled to make snap judgments about the accuracy and reliability of a wide range of information sources including social media and websites. Such judgments, even if unconsciously made, are frequently motivated by personal belief or experience. Perhaps we trust our professors because of positive experiences with high school teachers or because we trust professors' disciplinary credentials. We might accept the information in a book because it was found in Gitenstein Library or published by Oxford University Press. Maybe we believe a claim because it appeared in a scholarly encyclopedia. The point is that our decisions to accept or reject any piece of information, especially in academic and professional settings, should be based on criteria that can be articulated and refined. Avoid snap judgement when evaluating information for college-level work.

The pages of this guide provide suggested criteria for evaluating information on the open web. These criteria are not hard and fast rules but rather guidelines to apply as necessary. Ultimately it is up to you, the student researcher (in coordination with your professor), to determine if a website is appropriate in a particular context. Even popular sites not typically associated with academic research are multivalent (i.e., open to different interpretations and meanings). A website's academic value therefore depends on your particular information "need" and will not necessarily be the same for all researchers. Evaluate a website not strictly on whether the information it contains is factually accurate—obviously important—but also on the layered meanings, intended and unintended, it conveys. If you can make a strong case for including a non-library website in your bibliography or list of works cited, by all means do so. But please be prepared to articulate for your professor a rationale for its inclusion.

At minimum, ask these questions before incorporating an open website into your bibliography:

  • Is this website right for my specific need(s)?
  • Does it help to address or resolve the question(s) I need to answer?
  • Am I missing some important context for evaluating this website?
  • How do my own biases affect how I understand or receive information on this website?
  • Would a scholarly journal article or book available from our library work better?
Image credit: Ohio State University Libraries

Guide Author

Profile Photo
David C. Murray
TCNJ Library,
Room 216