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College Skills 101

a guide to career research for College Skills 101

Website Evaluation Criteria

When you are evaluating websites to see if they are credible, you will want to think about several factors of the source, like the author, publisher, date, evidence, and bias. Click on each of the tabs below to learn more about each of the criteria.

Author

The author of an article is the person or organization who created the source. A credible author should be considered an expert on a topic and have the authority to speak on that topic. To be considered an expert, an author must have a high level of education and/or significant experience related to a topic.

Education

An author with a high level of education about a topic will typically have a Masters degree or PhD (the highest degree you can have in a subject) in a related subject to the research topic.

It is important if you are looking at an author's education to consider what their PhD is in. For example, an author with a PhD in Business would not be a credible author to write about a topic that has to do with Biology. Even though they have a PhD, it is not in a related field to Biology, so they would not be considered an expert on this topic.

Experience

Not every author you find will have a PhD on a topic. For some topics, a PhD might not be relevant to be an expert, such as for auto mechanics. A credible author should have significant experience in a topic. Experience can be:

  • Writing books/articles about a topic.
  • Giving lectures, presentations, or teaching courses about a topic.
  • Being a professional journalist and covering this topic for a long time.

Questions to Ask Yourself

  • Who is this author?
  • What do you know about their credentials?
  • Why are they a reliable source of information on this topic?
  • Are they an expert on this topic?
  • Do they have an advanced degree from a college/university?
  • Do they have lots of experience in this subject?

Publisher

Where a source is published, and by whom, is another important factor for a source's credibility.

Who is the Publisher?

Ask yourself, is the publisher of the source:

  • A magazine/popular periodical?
  • A peer-reviewed journal?
  • A newspaper?
  • A website?
  • A business organization?
  • Or a platform where anyone can post with no criteria required (like Wikipedia)?

What do you Know About the Publisher?

Ask yourself:

  • Is this a well-known, well-respected publication?
  • Is the publishing company known for a certain type of publication?
  • Does this publisher have a purpose? For example, is the publication meant for education or entertainment?
  • Is there any indication the publisher could be biased?
  • Is the source peer-reviewed or fact checked?

Date

Always check the date of the source you are using. You want to make sure your information is current and not outdated. Using outdated information will make a source less credible.

Does Date Always Matter?

Depending on the subject you are researching, the date of the source may or may not be important. The date will be very important for the following subjects:

  • Technology
  • Business
  • Science
  • Health
  • Financial 
  • Career

Date will be very important for these subjects, because information in these subject areas can become outdated very quickly.

Evidence

Credible sources should publish accurate, reliable, and true information. Credible sources have evidence that backs up their claims. Without evidence, a source is just an opinion piece and may not be considered credible.

Citations

Check to see if a source has a Works Cited page at the end of the article. Take a look at the author's citations to see who they are citing. Credible sources will only cite other credible sources.

Statistics

Statistics are a great source of evidence, but you want to be sure the information is accurate and found through a trustworthy source and are not being used to mislead you. Statistics are often taken out of context of their original study, so it can also be helpful to try and find the original study the statistics were published in.

Other Experts/Studies, etc.

Some sources may not include a formal Works Cited page. In that case, while reading the article, pay attention to if the author mentions any other experts or studies as evidence to support their argument. Even if the author doesn't have a formal sources list, they should give you enough information that you could find more information about the expert or the study the author is referencing.

Good example of evidence: A 2021 study by Pew Research Center found almost a quarter of U.S. adults did not read a book last year.

With this information, you could find the entire study from the Pew Research Center website.

Bad example of evidence: A study found that a quarter of U.S. adults did not read a book last year.

There is no way to tell where this information came from. Who conducted the study? Who participated in the study? How did they arrive at this conclusion?

Bias

Every source has a mission, goal, or purpose. It might be to educate, entertain, sell, or persuade the reader of something.  Because of this, in some way, every source is going to have a perspective or a bias.

A biased source only gives a reader a certain perspective on a topic, usually the perspective that the author wants the reader to hear. A biased source will not consider an opposing viewpoint about their topic, only their viewpoint. Biased does not always mean a bad source, it just means that the source is presenting the information from a certain point of view.

Questions to Ask Yourself

  • How biased is this source?
  • Is the author or publisher associated with a company, organization, institution, agency, etc. that would make them biased on this topic?
  • Is the author or publisher only telling you one side of the argument?
  • Are they giving objective facts or opinions?
  • Where is the author's information coming from (what are their sources)?
  • Are their sources biased?

Domain Endings

Domain endings are the end part of a URL (.com, .org, .edu, .gov, etc.). Sometimes the domain ending can give you a clue to a website's purpose.

.com

.com stands for commercial sites, but really can be anything. Because of the variety of websites that could have a .com ending, you should pay close attention to the authors of articles and what kind of evidence they provide. Below are some examples of .com websites.

  • NBC - official television network with information about news and current events; not always guaranteed to be accurate, but in general a credible .com website.
  • Biography - a website for the television channel Biography. Often a good news source for newer public figures who have not had time to be printed in more formal publications.

.org

.org websites should be organizations, but again, they can really be anything since anyone could purchase a .org domain ending. Below are some examples of .org websites.

  • American Medical Association - the main website for the American Medical Association, which is a professional organization for doctors.
  • NPR - the main website for NPR, a well-known, respected news organization.

.edu

.edu websites should contain credible materials, since they are attached to schools, colleges, and university websites and are good places to find academic information. However, many school websites also have webpages that feature student work. The webpages will look professional and the same as the rest of the website, so it is important to pay attention to see what kind of information you are finding. Below are some examples of a .edu website.

  • "Drug Shortages: The Problem of Inadequate Profits" - this is a student paper located in the Harvard digital commons. The paper looks very professional and similar to articles you can find in a library database, but since it is written by a student, it would not be considered a credible source.
  • "Gender Bias in Microlending: Do Opposites Attract?" - the last example is a student thesis for a master's program. There should be some oversight by the student's professors, but the authority of the information would be dependent on how you are using it.

.gov

.gov websites are websites from the U.S. government. Government websites can be great sources of information for academic purposes, especially for statistics and data, which will be published by different government agencies. Below are some examples of .gov websites.

  • Occupational Outlook Handbook - this website is published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and is an excellent place to find statistics and data about different careers.
  • National Center for Education Statistics - this website is published by the U.S. Department of Education and provides statistics and data about K-12 and college students.

Evaluating Websites Video