Evaluating Web Sites
Contact: Prof. Monty L. McAdoo, User Education Librarian (Room 231), 814-732-1070
Without question, the World Wide Web provides access to a wealth of information. Unfortunately, many sites contain biased or even misinformation. This page is designed to alert you to some of the things to look for when evaluating a Web site to help determine a site’s readability, reliability, and relevancy and, thus, it's usefulness to you in your research. To compare sites, you might find our Web Site Evaluation handout helpful.
The 3 R’s of Evaluation
The following factors should all be considered when evaluating a Web site to determine whether or not it is a “good site.”
This refers to a site’s appearance as well as how easy it is to navigate. Colors, fonts, the time to load the page, the number of (in)active links, and how the content is organized are among the many factors affecting readability.
Reliability refers more to content and reflects the accuracy of a page’s information. Among the many questions to ask yourself: Can the information be verified, does it make sense, and how current is the information?
This involves both identifying the context of your finished product as well as whether or not the content you find is appropriate to that context. For example, if you’re teaching a group of children about the pollution, reading them a copy of the Clean Air Act is probably not the most relevant source.
What’s the best type of resource?
The best research will generally combine books, articles, and Web sites. It seems like there’s a Web site for everything but reliability and accessibility issues often detract from a site’s usefulness. Because they take more effort and time to produce, books tend to cover topics in more detail. The disadvantage is that the material is often somewhat dated by the time it’s published. Articles are generally better if you want the most current information but they lack the depth of a book.
Some Specific Factors to Consider
The following guidelines are just some of the many things to consider when attempting to determine a site’s readability, reliability, and/or relevancy.
As design technology advances, many page features may not appear or function properly on different browsers or older versions of the same browser and may require the installation of additional software.
Do the colors, fonts, animations, and so on appear planned or simply “thrown together?”
Who is the page geared towards? Things like the age, educational level, socioeconomic status, and occupation of the audience should be considered.
Who provided the content for the page? Is the author qualified to write on the subject? Is (s)he a professional in the field or a staff writer? What are his/her credentials?
How recent is the information? When was the page last updated? How often are updates made?
Links to other sites
Are links to other relevant sites provided? Do they work? Are they current? Are they reliable? Are they relevant?
Are there buttons taking you to the top of the page or elsewhere within the page? Are there navigation bars or tools available?
Needs to load quickly
Do graphics and animations slow down a page or do they contribute to a page’s content and/or readability and make the wait worthwhile?
Organization of information
Do the links “make sense?” Are the links still active? What navigational or other “help” options are available?
What bias(es) can you detect? Does the page support or argue against a particular viewpoint or affiliation? Religion, gender, political affiliation, race, sexual orientation, and/or age of the author can all create bias.
Publisher, source, host
Who is responsible for monitoring content? Does the host provide a disclaimer or is the site fully sanctioned? Does the page contain a phone number, address, or other contact information to determine a site’s and/or individual’s credentials?
Quality of content
Is the content current? Is it documented or can it otherwise be verified? What limitations, if any, exist and are they described? Is the content relevant?
Has the page been reviewed somewhere by someone and was the review favorable?
Scope and purpose?
What is the purpose of the page? To inform? Present new findings? Raise a question? Argue for or against a particular point of view?
Stability of information
When and to what degree was the information last updated? Depending on the nature of the changes, frequent updates may be a good sign or a bad one.
Style and tone
Misspelled words, errors in grammar and/or punctuation, and the tone/wording of a site can detract from readability and reliability.