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Evaluating Websites: Is It Real?

What is the point of evaluating information found on the Internet?

black laptop keyboard

When you're working on a scholarly research project, you want to be sure and locate the very best and most relevant information available. The challenge for you as a researcher is that not every information source is reliable or even true.  This is especially the case with online resources.  Anyone out there can create a website that says anything they want it to.  Most websites lack serious quality control, things like fact checking or even basic editing.  The result: GIGO, i.e sites that provide biased, outdated and unreliable/incorrect information.  Protecting yourself and the validity of your research requires critical thinking: the careful evaluation of all the information you find, no matter how credible the source may appear.  It's never a good idea to turn off your brain!

Questions to ask about the website you are using

The questions below are the ones you need to be asking yourself as you're trying to determine the credibility of any information source, but especially one you've run across online.  It may take a little time, but you can save yourself a lot of embarassment.


  • Who writes the articles and are they an expert?
  • Is a biography of the author included?
  • How can I find out more about the author/editor?
  • Who is the target audience?


  • What is the main purpose of the site?
  • What secondary purpose could the author/editor have?
  • What information is included, and can you verify it on other sites?


  • When was the site created?
  • When was the site last updated?


  • Where does the information come from?
  • Where can I look to find out more about the sponsor of the site?
  • Where does the funding come from for this website?


  • Why is this page better than another?


  • Does the website have a publication date?
  • Does the website have an “About” section with contact information?
  • Does the website have a lot of spelling, grammar, or punctuation errors?


  • Is the site actually the one you are looking for?
  • Similar title
  • The right domain (.com, .org, .net, etc.)

Scholarly vs. Popular Information


Google Chrome: Safe Browsing Check
"Google’s Safe Browsing technology examines billions of URLs per day looking for unsafe websites. Every day, we discover thousands of new unsafe sites, many of which are legitimate websites that have been compromised. When we detect unsafe sites, we show warnings on Google Search and in web browsers. You can search to see whether a website is currently dangerous to visit."

CyberNews Article About Fake Websites
Six ways to tell if a website is a fake.

BBB: How to Identify a Fake Website
Tips from the Better Business Bureau on how to tell a real website from a fake.

McAfee Warning
If you're using McAfee and you get a notification like the one below, WATCH OUT!  The website you're on may not be safe to visit.

Graphic showing McAfee's Suspicious Website notification screen


Purdue University's Online Writing Lab (OWL) has an excellent section on Evaluating Sources.  The areas covered by OWL include: