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Internet Searching: Evaluating Internet Sources

Provides tips and techniques to make the most out of internet searching.

Why Evaluate Internet Sources

The Internet is full of information, but not all of it is trustworthy and useful...there is no committee or board regulating it for quality and accuracy.

Therefore, it is up to you to determine the validity of an Internet source.

This page contains tips and tricks for helping you determine that validity.

Health Information on the Net

HON CodeUse Health on the Net (HON) to see if the website sponsor presents its information factually and clearly.  While this site does not guaranteed accuracy, the HON code icon indicates that the website meets continual standards for deploying online medical and health information in appropriate and ethical ways. Tip: Download the HON toolbar on your home computer.

View Evaluating Health information: A Tutorial from the National Library of Medicine

Read User's Guide to Finding and Evaluating Health Information on the Web  from the Medical Library Association for a few ideas for filtering the available web pages to a manageable number:

Purpose: Why was the page created? To: Inform, entertain, advertise, influence, advocate, provide up-to-the-moment news?  Health professionals must identify the best information to make accurate health decisions. Be particularly wary of websites that are trying to sell you their medical product.  Medical marketers will post research supporting their product, but won’t post research that doesn’t support it.

Authority/author: Who is responsible for the page? Is the author an expert in this field? What else has he/she written or produced? Does the author provide an e-mail address? How accurate is the provided information? Can you find any information that substantiates the person’s level of expertise?

Sponsor/Owner: On what type of Internet provider or domain does the page reside?  Government agency (.gov, .mil, .us);  Educational (.edu); Business/Company (.com, .biz ); Association: Professional or Non Profit (.org).  Does it matter?

What is it? Web-only page; magazine news or journal article; government source, blog, etc. Be particularly careful with information in listservs, blogs, and wikis – especially if you cannot verify it in standard respected information sources.

Audience: To what type of reader is the Web page directed? Is this written for medical professionals, or, for consumer health information seekers?

Coverage: Does the page cover the topic comprehensively, partially or is it an overview? Are the graphics clear in intent, relevant and professional looking?

Design and Content: Is the page organized and focused? Is it well designed? Is the text well written? Are the links relevant, appropriate and up-to-date? How’s the spelling?

Bias: Is a bias in the author’s or sponsor’s work  evident? Is it stated, or implied?  Medical product companies will be biased toward their own brands.

Date of Production/Revision: When was the Web page produced? When was it last revised? Are all the links still viable?

Security:  Are security and/or encryption systems employed when necessary?

Criteria for Evaluating Internet Sources

Consider the following criteria and questions when looking at an Internet source.

Accuracy: the reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the informational content.

  • Where does the information come from?
  • Is the information supported by evidence?
  • Has the information been reviewed or refereed?
  • Can you verify any of the information in another source or from personal knowledge?
  • Are there spelling, grammar, or other typographical errors?

Authority: the source of the information.

  • Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor?
  • Are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations given?
  • What are the author's qualifications to write on the topic?
  • Is there contact information, such as a publisher or e-mail address?
  • Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source (i.e.; .com, .edu, .gov, .org)?

Currency: the timeliness of the information.

  • When was the information published or posted?
  • Has the information been revised or updated?
  • Is the information current or out-of date for your topic?
  • Are the links functional? 

Purpose/Objectivity: why the information exists.

  • What is the purpose of the information (i.e.; to inform, teach, sell, entertain, persuade, etc)?
  • Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
  • Is the information fact or opinion?
  • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
  • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional, or personal biases?

Relevance: the importance of the information for your needs.

  • Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is the information at an appropriate level (i.e. not too elementary or advanced for your needs)?
  • Have you looked at a variety of sources before determining this is one you will use?
  • Would you be comfortable using this source for a research paper?

This is a modified version of a document created by Sarah Blakeslee at Meriam Library, CSU Chico.

A Word About Library Resources

It is worth noting that GRCC Library resources such as books, ebooks, journals and databases have already been evaluated by scholars and professionals, as well as the librarians on staff here.