Skip to Main Content

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, cable news, and open websites. Such judgments, even if unconsciously made, are frequently motivated by personal belief or experience. Perhaps we believe in the essential truth of what our professors profess because of good 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 an academic press such as Oxford University Press. Maybe we accept 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. No judgement should be a snap judgement when evaluating information sources in scholarly communication. That has always been true but is even truer today when artificial intelligence facilitates the creation of deep fakes and disinformation on a massive scale.

The pages of this guide provide suggested criteria for evaluating information on the web. These criteria are not hard and fast rules but rather guidelines to apply as necessary. Ultimately, it is up to you, the researcher in coordination with your professor, of course, to determine if a website or any information source is appropriate in a particular context.

Remember that even popular websites not typically associated with academic research are multivalent. Evaluate any site not strictly on whether the information it contains is factually accurate, but also on the layered meanings, intended and unintended, it conveys. A website's academic value depends on your particular information "need" and will not necessarily be the same for all students. If you can make a good case for including a website in your bibliography, by all means do so. But please be prepared to articulate 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 this website?
  • Would a peer-reviewed journal article or scholarly book available from our library work better?
Image credit: Ohio State University Libraries

Guide Author

Profile Photo
David C. Murray
TCNJ Library,
Room 216
Skype Contact: xpuhil