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Five Criteria for Evaluating Web Pages

Librarians use the Web.  Daily..and on the Web, there is now a huge amount of useful information.  But it's not all good.  Here are five criteria a librarian uses to assess web content.  You should use these as well.

When you undertake research on the Web, it's important to critically evaluate everything you read.  These five criteria will help you determine if the information is reliable and appropriate to use for your research.

1 - Accuracy

Is the author citing his/her sources of information, including statistical data?  With the information provided, will you be able to verify the contents with another source?  If the author provides links to other websites, would you consider these reliable sources of information? 

As with any other source you would consult, the information provided needs to be verifiable.  If you can't verify something that is stated as fact on a website, you can safely assume that some of the information may not reliable and that you should look elsewhere. 

2 - Authority

When consulting a website, is it clear who authored the content?  Can you locate contact information?  What are the author(s) credentials?  If it's a website run by an organization or professional association, what's its mission? 

Authority is important since anyone can create content on the web.  If there is no authoring and contact information for a given website, I would recommend that you continue your search.

3 - Objectivity

Is the information on the website fact or opinion?  Can you tell if the information is biased?  If it's a controversial topic, does the website take a neutral stance or is it slanted to a particular point of view?  Are the authors trying to present opinion as fact?  Is the website sponsored?  Do ads appear on the website?  What other sites does the website link to?

Remember that just because something looks reliable on the web, it may be slanted towards a group's or company's own interests.  If the website is sponsored or has ads, look at the content to determine if the site was created as a means of promoting a particular product, service or ideology.  If links to other websites are provided, take the time to examine these other sites.  For example, if a website about abortion is mainly linking to anti-abortion groups, it's safe to assume that the information on the site may not be neutral.

4 - Currency

When was the website last updated?  Are there dead links?  Can you find information telling you when the website was created?   

If you can't find a date anywhere, it may be difficult determine the website's currency.  A website with no dates and broken links may indicate that the site is out-of-date and / or poorly maintained.  

5 - Purpose and intended audience

Who are the author(s) trying to reach with the website (children, adults, professionals)?  Why do you think the author(s) created the website?  Are the author(s) trying to sell you something, collect your personal information, etc.?  

When you approach content on the web, the first thing you should consider is the target audience.  A website constructed for children, in most cases, is not appropriate when you're doing research at a university level.  If you're doing research on the internet, preferably, you should be consulting sites geared towards specialists in a given field.  Another point to consider is the website's purpose.  Websites whose aim is to sell you something or gather your personal information may not be reliable sources to consult.  Furthermore, if a website is looking to promote a particular group or ideology, it may not be the most objective source of information

Our Two Favourite Web Resources

Google Scholar

This search engine (Google Scholar) allows you to locate scholarly resources with an interface you already know.  Through Google scholar, you can locate a wide range of documents including: articles, books, abstracts, etc. 

To get the best results, you should search Google scholar the same way as you would any other database, by making use of its search operators.  For more information, please consult Google's Advanced Scholar Search Tips.



Wikipedia is useful when gathering background information, and locating other sources of information.  Always look at the reference list and the "further reading" section.  These references may help you find other sources that could be of use.  You should also compare what you're reading on Wikipedia with another encyclopedia, or reliable source of information to detect any errors, discrepancies, or bias.

Remember that not all articles have a neutral point of view.  When researching controversial topics (abortion, religion, politics, etc.), you should consult both the article's history and the discussion page.  This may help you determine any bias or recent acts of vandalism on an article.  Furthermore it allows to read discussions regarding content that is added to the article.