Once you have found a website that contains relevant information, you can examine the following factors in order to determine the source’s reliability, but these website evaluation do’s and don’ts can only go so far when evaluating websites, and hopefully the links on bottom will show why:
- Authority – What is the website address? Is there an author? What are the author’s credentials?
- Bias – Is the information objective? Or is there an agenda? Any political slant?
- Timeliness – How old is it? Is it outdated? Is there even a date available?
- References – Are there references? In-text citations? Plagiarism?
Instead, the best way to evaluate a website is to externally verify the information using other seemingly-reliable sources, though the key is to never trust any one source. Here is an example of what can happen if you only use one source of information:
- Matt Damon Dead? – how could have the reporters avoided calling Matt Damon to find out whether or not he was found dead?
If you can find that the authority is questionable, then the source may be unreliable. Googling the name of the author sometimes works to investigate further, and another site that is worth checking out is SourceWatch, which is like a Wikipedia for sources. Another site, Whois.Net, allows you to see who the owner of a website is; however, it’s very easy for an owner of a website to conceal his or her identity by having the host or another party act as the owner-in-name.
- Let’s evaluate these websites:
- http://www.goat-trauma.org – are .org sites reliable?
- http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/326/7398/1057%20 – how would you find out more about the author of this article? (see SourceWatch)
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:General_disclaimer – what is the reliability of a site that makes this claim?
- http://nutmeg.easternct.edu/~adams/ – see “Dead Grandmother Syndrome”
- http://web.archive.org/web/20070809202103/www.lipbalmanonymous.com/ – I had to use The Wayback Machine at Archive.org for this one, and I do count this as real research
- http://www.twinkiesproject.com – how reliable are their results? (I actually consider this to be real research as well, even though it fails every one of the website evaluation do’s and don’ts above: authority, bias, references, and timeliness)
- http://www.headaches.org – how can you tell whether or not this is a real organization?
- http://www.martinlutherking.org – this site is included in many online “Evaluating Websites” lessons because of its very high Google rank (check it out using Whois)
- http://zapatopi.net/afdb/ – see the link for “Special Note for Website Evaluators” (this is the real lesson)