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April 16, 2001
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Evaluating Internet Sites

If you frequently use the Internet for research, you may have discovered that it is often difficult to satisfy your information needs without suffering from data overload.

When beginning a search on the web, one way to alleviate the problem of too much information is to first establish the context for your search. Is your emphasis on current information or historical data? Are you looking for popular or scholarly sites?

If serious research is your objective, the following criteria may be useful in evaluating a web site:

Access

The first issue that arises is whether the information you need is easily available to you. Here are some considerations:

  • Is there a cost associated with obtaining the required information?
  • Are there any special software or hardware requirements? Is it formatted only for a certain browser?
  • Do you have to register to use the site (even though the information might be free)?

Content

Once you have full access, you can then determine whether the site meets your information needs:

  • What is the purpose of the site?
  • What is the scope of the site? How comprehensive is it?
  • How often does the content change?
  • Is the information accurate and credible? What do similar sources have to say about the topic?
  • Is this discussion objective, or does the author write from a particular point of view?

Currency

Even though a site may appear to be right on point, it will do you little good if the information presented is outdated. Always look for the following:

  • When was the page produced and when was it last revised?
  • How often is the site updated? Does this apply to the specific information you need?
  • Do the internal links still work?

Authority

While a site may appear to be relevant, it may not be suitable for research purposes if the information cannot be relied upon. Consider the following:

  • Who is the sponsoring organization or the publisher of the site? Is the publisher appropriate for the material covered? Check for URL endings (eg., .edu, .gov, .org., .com)
  • Who is the author? Is it apparent that he or she has expertise in the subject covered?
  • What is the relationship between the author and the publisher of the site?
  • Does the author provide email or other contact information?
  • Are the sources referred to in the site documented?
Organization and Style

While aesthetics does not always coincide with high value in terms of content, presentation can be a factor when deciding between alternative sources. Keep the following in mind:

  • Is the layout clear and logical, and are the subsections well organized?
  • Does the writing style befit the intended audience?
  • If the site is extensive, is it searchable?

 

Written by: Sunil Rao
Reference Librarian
strao@facstaff.wisc.edu

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