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Writing and Citing: Choosing Websites

How can I tell if a website is okay to use?

checkmark Five Criteria* to Determine if a Website is Credible:

Whether searching for school, work or personal reasons, all of us can say we have encountered websites that led to false information. When browsing recreationally, this is not so much of an issue; however, when it is important that the information you seek is factual and credible there are some things to be on the lookout for.

  1. Accuracy - The author or entity that created the content should be crystal clear. This is usually presented in a "About Us" or "Mission" section of the website. Additionally, there should be a way to contact the author/organization. If it cannot be determined who or what generated this content, it is probably because they do not want you to know.
  2. Authority - The credentials / expertise of the author or organization should be available. Further, sources should be listed that describe where any "facts", graphs or statistical information is coming from. Sometimes here it is helpful to search within .edu, .org or .gov domains.
  3. Objectivity - Does the site provide true content or is it just an “ad”? Is the content objective and unbiased? Note: It's not that a biased website contains false information; rather, it does not present both sides of the story. When first trying to ascertain the facts of something, it's important to be presented with balanced content.
  4. Currency - When was the last time the website was updated? If there are dead links or obviously outdated content, this should be a sign that this website is not being properly maintained.
  5. Coverage - Is there a balance of text vs images? Are there citations that could lead to additional information on the topic? In other words, you should not be asked to pay for content or install any software out of the ordinary to view the website.

*Originally compiled by Kapoun, Jim. "Teaching undergrads WEB evaluation: A guide for library instruction." C&RL News (July/August 1998): 522-523.

Open Access Scholarship via the Digital Commons Network

Search open access scholarly works published by Universities across the globe. Hover over the image to follow the link and then search or hover to find your area of interest. The wheel will automatically change to offer subcategories within each discipline. Performs best in Firefox browser.


How trustworthy is your source?

Did that really happen?

question mark Validating Information in Websites or Emails via snopes logo

  • The best mythbuster out there is a website called snopes.com. Simply type your 'urban myth' into snopes and it will likely tell you whether the legend / rumor is true, false or somewhere in between.
    • Example: You have received the following 'chain' letter email:

    Fw: PYREX

    About 5:30 PM there was a loud bang from the oven. Sylvia opened the oven door and the Pyrex dish had shattered into a million pieces. The roast beef (our first in many months) was peppered with small shards of very sharp glass. Normally, I am quick to inform Sylvia she did something stupid. However, this time she was nowhere near the stove when it blew. I shoveled the glass and the now mashed potatoes into a bucket with two putty knives. I then sucked the remains with the shop vac. I let everything cool down and then scrubbed the oven with Simple Green and some hot soapy water. It took over an hour to clean up the goo. Upon completion I ran the oven empty to see if the temperature controller was working okay. I suspected the oven got too hot and the dish simply blew. This was not the case however. The oven came up to temperature and cycled normally. We threw a disgusting frozen pizza in the oven and it cooked okay.

    What is going on?

    I Googled exploding Pyrex dishes and got ten million hits. Exploding Pyrex is very common.

  • There is a lot more to this email as you will see. It was very heavily distributed during Sept. 2009.
  • Here is what Snopes has to say about exploding pyrex.

Snopes Exploding Pyrex

  • The response also provides the email in its entireity, the origins of the rumor and any sources used to determine the validity of the claim.
  • This site is not limited to email hoaxes. It also has a lot of information that shed light on confusing political sound bites and many other topics as well.

Does your website of choice pass the CRAAP test?

Ask yourself the following questions about each website you're considering:

Currency: Timeliness of the information

  • How recent is the information?
  • Can you locate a date when the page(s) were written/created/updated?
  • Are the links functional?
  • In regards to your topic, is it current enough?

Relevance: The importance of the information for your needs

  • Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
  • Is the information at an appropriate level (not too elementary or advanced)?
  • How does it compare with other sources you have looked at?

Authority: The source of the information

  • Can you determine who the author/creator is?
  • Is there a way to contact them?
  • What are their credentials (education, affiliation, experience, etc.)?
  • Is there evidence they're experts on the subject?
  • Who is the publisher or sponsor of the site?

Accuracy: The reliability, truthfulness and correctness of content

  • Is it arranged logically and consistently?
  • Has it been either peer reviewed or cited elsewhere?
  • Can you verify any of the information in another source?
  • Does the language or tone seem biased and free of emotion?
  • Are there spelling, grammar or other typographical errors?

Purpose / Point of View: The reason the information exists

  • Based on the writing style, who is the intended audience? 
  • What's the intent of the website (to persuade, to sell you something, etc.)?
  • What is the domain (.edu, .org, .com, .gov etc.)? How might that influence the purpose/point of view?
  • Are there ads on the website? How do they relate to the topic being covered (e.g., an ad for ammunition next to an article about firearms legislation)?
  • Is the author presenting fact or opinion?
  • Who might benefit from a reader believing this website?

By scoring each category on a scale from 1 to 10 (1 = worst, 10=best possible) you can give each site a grade on a 50 point scale for how high-quality it is!

45 - 50 Excellent | 40 - 44 Good | 35 - 39 Average | 30 - 34 Borderline Acceptable | Below 30 - Unacceptable

Advanced Google Searching

google Finding Credible Websites Using Advanced Google Search

For whatever reason, google has deliberately chosen to hide the advanced search link as well as its own help page that describes Advanced Search Tips.

  • Go into Google.com and enter Google Advanced, or just go here.
  • Enter your search terms. Note that you can search by exact phrase, all words or any words. You may even exclude words if you like.
    • For the purposes of this demonstration, enter the keywords: gun control
  • In Search within a site or domain, limit it to an: .edu
  • Scroll to the bottom and click on the plus sign next to: Date, usage rights, numeric range, and more. Narrow the date by choosing from the drop down: within the last year
  • Click the Advanced Search button on the bottom right.
  • Note that all of the results are from .edu's (educational institutions) and the content also has been updated within the last year.

Adv Google Results

  • Google is a great teacher as well - note that it is clear how the search instructions were modified in the search box above. From here, modify the search to look for only government sites by simply changing .edu to .gov.
  • Now the search box looks like this:

google search box

  • Now, Google will only return government websites that contain the words gun control AND were updated within the last year.

So, as you modify anything in the advanced search screen, you can see how it is modified within the basic google search box. After a while you'll become an expert on typing your advanced searches in right from the basic search box!

Mythbuster Websites

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