Evaluate Information: The W5 for the W3
A lot of websites are reliable and credible. A lot of websites are misleading or untrustworthy. Don't let slick advertisements, fancy graphics and professional appearance make your decisions. Make up your own mind.Use these five criteria to put websites to the test.
Look for an author. Sometimes you’ll find a person’s name, but not always. Sometimes the author may be an organization or association. Look for credentials for the person or organization. Often authors are listed in a section called “About,” “About Us” or “Contributors.” Look to see who pays the bills to keep the site running.
What kind of site is is?
Of the dozens of top-level domains, these five are the most common:
.com stands for commercial site. Don’t automatically eliminate a .com site before you evaluate it. Many organizations, education, even government sites use .com because it’s easier for people to remember.
.edu stands for education. Only officially recognized educational institutions can have a .edu website, but they may be public, private, profit, or non-profit. Information on .edu sites may be written by college officials, professors, or even students, so look for author credentials.
.gov stands for government. These sites could be city, county, state or federal level websites. Only official government agencies can get a .gov website. You rarely find the names of individual authors on .gov sites, so treat the government agency as the author.
.org stand for organization. But don’t assume that all .org websites are legitimate organizations! Anyone can get a website with .org. Anyone! You need to evaluate all .org sites.
.net stands for network, and is often used for companies that provide website space for others. .net is often a clue that you’re looking at an individual’s website, so examine it closely.
When was the information created?
Look for a date that tells you how old the information is. Sometimes websites don’t have dates on the articles or pages. Look around for other clues that indicate if the site is regularly updated. If the only date you see is today’s date, it’s likely an automatic date and doesn’t really tell you how old the information is.
Where can you find more information?
There are facts. There are opinions. Opinions are OK for movie reviews. For academic work, you want facts. Look for sources the author used, especially if the article quotes statistics or data. Look for contact information. If in doubt, send a verification email.
Verify the information in another source - not just another website, but a book or an article. Credible information is available from a variety of sources.
Why is this site here?
Websites exist to sell, make money, get rich, persuade, advocate, bully, educate, teach, show off, entertain, amuse, spoof, share, connect, mislead, and more. Find the purpose of the site by looking for About, Mission, Press Center, More Info, or others. You may have to dig around!
Who, What, When, Where, Why. There’s a sixth question: HOW? How can you get more help? Ask a Librarian.