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The web contains many hundreds of millions of pages, including everything from rigorous research to trivia and misinformation. The following information will help you work out whether the information you’ve found on the Web is appropriate to use in your academic work, whether you can learn anything useful from it, and whether it’s going to gain you marks – or lose them!
'Evaluating web resources' is also available in Word or PDF
But if I find something on the Web, it’s all right to use it, isn’t it? So how do I evaluate a Web source? What is being said? Who is saying it? Where are they from? Why are they saying it? When does this information date from? More suggestions to help you find and evaluate information on the Web.
That depends. Some people think of the Web as like a library, full of information – but it’s a “library” where anyone can just walk in with something they’ve written (or made up!) and put it on the shelf, and where the newspapers, books, films and celebrity gossip magazines are all mixed up together. The Web has detailed academic research, opinion pieces, trivia, and outright scams and hoaxes – and you can’t always tell from a quick glance which is which.
Before you use something you found on the Web in your academic work, you need to know how to judge whether it’s appropriate – this guide will help you do that – and then if you do use it, you need to reference (cite) it just as you would a book, journal article or any other piece of information. The pages on Citing References in Your Work will help you with that.
Ask yourself some questions about it. All these are questions you should ask yourself about any information you are planning to use in an assignment – but you often have to work harder to find the answers to those questions about a Web source than you do with a book or journal article.
Answering all the above questions should help you decide how trustworthy the information is and how appropriate it is to use it in your work. Don’t forget – if you use it, cite it!
To help you track down reliable information on the Web, instead of going straight to Google check your Subject page on the Brookes Library Web site - most Academic Liaison Librarians include key Web sites in your subject area.
For further information on evaluating Internet and web resources, you may find some of the following helpful:
Ayers, Phoebe (2008). How to evaluate a Wikipedia article. Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:How_to_evaluate_a_Wikipedia_article.pdf (Accessed: 24 July 2013) - while most courses will not recommend you use Wikipedia for primary research, if you do use it as a starting point, this article gives good tips on judging quality and reliability.
Grassian, Esther (2006). Thinking critically about Web 2.0 and beyond Available at: https://sites.google.com/site/teachinfolit/find-evaluate-web-sites-blogs-wikis-more/thinking-critically-about-web-2-0-beyond (Accessed: 29 September 2016) - a detailed checklist for evaluating Web resources.
Tutorpro (2011). Virtual training suite. Available at: http://www.vtstutorials.co.uk/ (Accessed: 24 July 2013) - originally produced by Intute and now maintained by Tutorpro, these Internet subject tutorials each have a section on evaluating the quality of material you find on the Web.
(links below go to the Library Catalogue):
Blakeman, Karen (2004). Search strategies for the Internet. (Currently withdrawn) Caversham: RBA Information Services. Part 6, “Assessing the quality of information” gives helpful suggestions on identifying a Web site’s authors and what authority they have.
Clegg, Brian (2006). Studying using the web : the student's guide to using the ultimate information resource. London: Routledge. Chapter 6, “Who do you trust?” is very helpful on evaluating the authority of a Web site.
Cooke, Alison (2001). A guide to finding quality information on the Internet: selection and evaluation strategies . 2nd edition. London: Library Association Publishing. Chapters 3 to 5 cover evaluation of sources.
Ford, Nigel (2012). The essential guide to using the Web for research. Los Angeles: Sage. (Chapters 4-7 are on the importance of identifying quality information on the Web and what tools can help you find it.)
Munger, David (2007). What every student should know about researching online. London: Pearson Longman. (Chapter 3 is on evaluating web sources).
O Dochartaigh, Niall (2007). Internet research skills . Los Angeles: Sage. Detailed, helpful guide to using the Web to find many different types of resource, both free and paid-for, for academic research – the chapter specifically on evaluation is short and not in-depth, but those who have followed O Dochartaigh’s guidance on searching are more likely to have found better-quality information to begin with.