Research - Finding and Evaluating Sources
Remember: All information sources are NOT equally reliable.
The 5 W’s: Who, What, When, Where, Why?
Who wrote/published the information on the site?
Because anyone can publish on the Web, it’s important that you first identify the source – the author of the information on the site.
- Who is the author/publisher? Is that source clearly identified on the site?
- Can I contact the author by email, telephone or a mailing address?
- What are the author’s credentials? Is he/she an expert in the subject I am researching?
- Is the site created or sponsored by a reputable organization? If so, can I confirm that the organization is a credible, authoritative source or information?
What information and resources does the site provide?
The information you find on a Web site does not necessarily pass through the hands of editors, fact-checkers, or reviewers, so it’s up to you to determine the value of the site’s content and presentation.
- What is the site’s purpose: to persuade, inform, or entertain? Does the site achieve its purpose?
- Is the information on the site objective or biased? The site should present several authoritative viewpoints on the subject and not just one person.
- Does the site provide thorough coverage of the topic? Does it reference or link to other in-depth resources?
- Is the information on the site well written? Are there misspellings or grammatical errors?
- Does the site provide a Works Cited page or a bibliography? Can I verify that the resources the author consulted are reliable, thorough, and objective?
- Does the site feature graphics, video and audio clips, or animations? Do these multimedia elements help explain or clarify the site’s topic?
Navigation & Presentation:
- Is the site well organized and easy to navigate? Can I find the information I am looking for within a few clicks?
- Is the site visually appealing? Does the design suit the overall purpose?
- Are multimedia elements used sparingly and for a specific purpose? Or are they distracting?
- Does the site have any advertisements or banners that might distract me from my purpose for visiting?
- Does the site take a long time to load?
When was the site created/last updated?
Is your topic time-sensitive? In other words, is it important that you locate the most current, up-to-date resources?
Does the site indicate when it was first created and last updated?
Do the links work, or do they lead to error messages, such as “Page Not Found”? Sites that are not regularly updated are likely to have more “broken links.”
Where does the site “live”?
Look closely at the site’s URL – specifically at the three-letter suffix known as an extension. For example, in the address www.archives.gov, the extension is .gov. Sometimes, the extension can provide clues about the source of the site you are viewing.
Some Common Extensions
.gov – government agency
.edu – educational institution
.org – organization (usually, though not always, nonprofit)
.com – commercial business or personal Web site
.mil – military
Watch out! A site with the .gov extension signals a government agency, and therefore, probably has reliable and trustworthy information. However, it can be harder to determine whether sites with the .edu, .org, or .com extension are quality ones. For example, the .edu extension indicates that a site is associated with an educational institution, but it doesn’t tell you whether it's the official site of the history department or one created by a first-year student.
Remember – looking at the URL’s extension can uncover clues about the quality of the site, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. To really determine whether the site is a good one, you’ll need to ask the other 4 Ws: who?, what?, when?, and why?
Why should I use this site?
Evaluating the credibility, thoroughness, accuracy, currency, and presentation of a Web site will help you determine whether to use that site for your research.
Do the resources on this site meet all my needs? Is the information verifiable, in-depth, and up to date?
Why is this Web site a better research source than some of the other sites I've already visited?