How Do I Pick a Reliable Website?

The World Wide Web is a great resource to find information on pretty much anything. The challenge comes in evaluating the usefulness and reliability of the information you find on the web. Not everything you find on the web is true or should be used in a college research paper.

Ask yourself the following questions to evaluate the usefulness of a website:

How did you find the website?

  • Was it found through a search engine like Google? Unlike library databases, the accuracy and/or quality of information located via a search engine will vary. Be sure to go through the entire evaluation process.
  • Was the web site recommended by your instructor? If your instructor recommended the site, then he/she is probably comfortable with the site’s reliability of information.
  • Was the web site cited in a scholarly article or reference source? If it was, then it is probably a reliable source.
  • Did you find the web site through a link from a reliable source like ipl2 (formerly Librarians’ Internet Index & Internet Public Library)? If so, then it is probably a reliable source.

What is the website’s domain?

  • .org
    An organizational site, such as a not-for-profit organization.
  • .com
    A commercial or business site.
  • .net
    A network organization or an internet service provider.
  • .edu
    An educational site such as a college or university.
  • .gov
    A government site.

The web site’s domain can help you determine the motivation or purpose behind the site. Are they trying to sell you a product or are they there for educational purposes?

Authority: Who wrote or sponsored the information on the website?

  • Is the author identified? If so, are his/her credentials also listed?
  • Does the author provide contact information such as an address, phone number or email address?
  • Who is sponsoring the web site? Is the sponsor reputable?

Accuracy: Anyone can publish information on a website. Is it accurate?

  • Is the information reliable?
  • Are there facts and/or statistics that can be backed up by citations or a bibliography?
  • Is anyone besides the author verifying the information?
  • Are there grammatical and/or spelling errors?

Objectivity: Is there a bias or agenda behind the website?

  • Why does the web site exist and who is the target audience?
  • What are the goals and objectives of the author?
  • Is the web site meant to pursuade or inform?
  • Is the purpose of the web site clearly stated?
  • Does the web site have a sponsor or advertiser? Are they influencing the agenda or bias of the web site?

Currency: How current or timely is the information on the website?

  • Is the information on the web site outdated?
  • When was the web site last updated?
  • Are the links up-to-date?
  • Is the web site is on a timely topic such as medical research that needs to be updated regularly?

For further assistance or explanation, please see a reference librarian.