Evaluating Websites

This tutorial is about evaluating websites. It will explain domain endings for URL addresses and it will provide steps or the ABC and D of website evaluation to determine if a website is credible or not. Before we begin, have you ever been tricked by appearance? Maybe something you thought looked “good” turned out to be not so good…

. Well, sometimes, websites can be the same way. Take these websites. Based on their appearance alone which do you think is the professional website? Website 1 or Website 2?

If you picked Website 1… You’re wrong. While professional in style, this site is actually a fake site giving out far from accurate information. But how would you know that? This is where evaluating websites come into play. One of the first steps in evaluation is understanding domain endings.

Domain endings are simply what follows the period in your URL address. The main domain endings are .com, .edu, .gov, and

.org, .COM domain endings are commercial sites that are usually trying to sell you a product or service. They aren’t the most reliable websites in terms of researching a product or a service. So if you wanted to know the side effects of botox you might not want to visit a.

com botox site, -.EDU are educational sites such as universities and public schools. Be careful when you’re on these sites as many colleges and universities provide free web pages for their students… You wouldn’t want to be citing a freshman college students’ website about cancer, would you? But, you can find lots of credible information on these sites from faculty and researchers.

.GOV are government pages. These are great sites to visit when you need reports on certain drugs, laws, and so forth… Back to our previous example, if you wanted to know the side effects of botox you might turn to the Food and Drug Administration’s .gov site to look at their research over the drug…

ORG sites are organizational sites and while they sometimes provide loads of information be careful. Organizations have their own personal missions so if you wanted information about gun violence and safety, the information you find on a pro-gun organizational site compared to the information you find on an anti-gun organizational site could be different and potentially biased. Now that we understand domain endings, let’s look at some of the steps or the A, B, C and D of website evaluation that you need to go through in order to determine if a website is credible or not.

One of the first things to look for is the site’s authority. Who is behind the site and why do they have the site?

The best way to do this is locate an “About us” or “About Author” on the page. This link should lead you to a page that will detail an author’s credentials for posting the information you’re reading. If you’re looking at an .org site, here you should find not only the organization’s name but their mission. All of this information is necessary not only to understand if a website is credible, in terms of accuracy, but also the site’s potential bias.

Have you ever been on a website in which the content was obviously slanted or maybe the page consisted solely of hyperlinks to buy items? Here is a WebMD entry about asthma.

And, while the page shows that the information for this entry was reviewed by licensed medical doctor, you might also notice that at the top of the page, that the website’s advertiser is an Asthma medication maker. Here, you might start to ponder whether or not WebMD’s content could be biased in nature due to their site’s advertisers. Next, look for the currency of the site.

When was the last time the page was updated? Or the article on the website written? While copyright date isn’t too important with sites relaying historical information, currency is especially important with sites relaying rapidly changing information such as legislation news or medical information. Medical sites’ currencies are extremely important when researching current health epidemics like influenza outbreaks. Finally, look for the documentation.

Quite like when you’re asked to cite your sources for the papers you write in college.

Where is the site pulling its information? Are the website’s sources listed? If you’re looking at a website that is talking about cancer treatment and so forth, where is their information coming from? Is it in-house research?

Is it research from a University? If a site doesn’t provide its sources that may be a sign of trouble. With this Amnesty International report, they actually do list their sources, so you may want to look back at these sources to make sure that Amnesty is being true to the original sources’ information and not slanting the information to fit in with their organizational mission.

So here you have it. The ABC and D of website evaluation: authority, bias, currency and documentation.

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