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W131: English Composition: Evaluate Websites

Evaluating Web Sites

This was written by a librarian at Indiana University Bloomington

Evaluating Web Sites

Since almost anything can be put online, it is necessary to critically evaluate the information you find on the web. Web sites are often a blend of information, entertainment and advertising.


  • Does the site have an author?

  • What are the author’s qualifications or expertise in the area?

  • Is the contact information for the author or the sponsor/publisher given?

  • What is the relationship between the author and the sponsoring institution?


  • Is the information accurate?

  • Has the information been edited/fact-checked?

  • Is the information verifiable?

  • Does the site document the sources used?

  • If the information is historical or biographical, are the dates of events accurate?

  • How does the information compare with what you already know?


  • Is the site up-to-date?

  • When was the information created or last updated?

  • Are the links expired or current?

Point of View

  • Whose point of view/perspective is given?

  • Is the author simply promoting an agenda?

  • To what extent is the information trying to sway the opinion of the audience?

  • Is there advertising on the page?


After applying the guidelines, ask yourself whether the document or site is appropriate for your research.


What is the purpose of the Web site?

Do a quick scan of the site. Can you determine its general purpose? Is it meant to:

    e.g., about current events, new information, etc.

    e.g., teach, instruct, etc.

    e.g., change your mind, sell you something, etc.


Who is the intended audience?

The domain name and the source of the URL web address of the page will indicate the site’s intended audience. Knowing this provides clues as to the site’s value and reliability.


Most common domain names

Domain Meaning Example
.edu created at a college or university
.gov created by an official U.S. federal agency or office
.org varies - in most cases the site was created by a nonprofit organization or an individual
.com varies - in most cases the site was created by a for-profit organization
.net varies greatly - often indicates that the site was created by a person, group, etc. that uses an Internet service provider
.mil created by the U.S. military created by state-supported institution of Indiana - the .us domain requires a state code as a second level domain


Most web sites fall into the following broad categories:


Advocacy Web Pages

Sponsored by an organization attempting to influence public opinion (that is, one trying to sell ideas). The URL of the page frequently ends in .org (organization).


Business / Marketing Web Pages

Sponsored by a commercial enterprise (usually it is a page trying to promote or sell products). The URL of the page frequently ends in .com (commercial).


Information Web Pages

Purpose is to present factual information. The URL of the page frequently ends in .gov, as many are sponsored by government agencies. Information web pages may be sponsored by an educational institution. The purpose is either to inform prospective students or educate current students. The URL of the page will almost always end in .edu.


News Web Pages

Primary purpose is to provide extremely current information. The URL of the page usually ends in .com (commercial).


Personal Web Pages

Published by an individual who may or may not be affiliated with a larger institution. Although the URL of the page may have a variety of endings (e.g. .com, .edu, .net, etc.), a tilde (~) is frequently found somewhere in the URL.


Important points...

  • Because web sites are creative with their presentation, layout, and styles, additional challenges may surface.

  • Search engines may retrieve pages out of context, so it is always important to return to the home page of a site to find the correct publisher and author information.

  • Be aware that you can easily be taken to other sites that may not provide a link to return you to your original site.

  • With use of frames, you may not realize that you have been taken to another site.

  • Animated graphics can distract you from the main content of a site.