Evaluating the Credibility of Internet Sites
The World Wide Web provides a unique opportunity for virtually anyone, anywhere, to be a writer and/or publisher. For less than $20, any person with access to an internet-linked computer can register a domain name and set up an Internet site.
There is little or no government monitoring or control of what is published on Web sites. Persons, companies, and organisations can publish materials on the Web that may have factual errors and/or may be either accidentally or purposely misleading. Because anyone can publish just about anything on the Web, Internet users should, therefore, use caution when gathering information from the Web. Before accepting a site’s published material as credible or truthful, users should try to determine who controls the site and whether the publishers have an underlining agenda. Are they trying to sell you something? Are they trying to influence you to adopt their opinion in some matter? Do they operate from a biased viewpoint? If so, what is the bias?
The domain identifies the source or location of an Internet site. It serves as an address so that people can find a Web site on the Internet. For example, the domain name for the University of Sydney is www.usyd.edu.au. The suffix which indicates the top-level domain (edu) can serve as an indication of the probable credibility of the information. For example: Some of the more common top-level domains include:
.edu – indicates a school or university Web site. Students, teachers, and professors can submit to this site. View qualifications/credentials of individual contributors to determine their credibility.
.gov – is an official site belonging to an agency of the federal, state, or local government. Information is generally considered to be credible.
.net – domains that can belong to anyone. Information may or may not be credible.
.com – generally indicates a site belonging to a business. Practice caution when using these sites. Information may or may not be credible.
.mil – represents sites belonging to the U.S. military. Information is generally credible.
.org – generally represents nonprofit organisations. Information may or may not be credible. Use caution.
Additional Web Credibility Guidelines
Select sources that offer as much of the following as possible:
- Name of author and organization
- The author’s title and credentials (do they indicate that he/she is a credible source?)
- The author’s affiliation to the organization
- The person/organization managing the site (Ask yourself if the site is politically or commercially motivated)
- The purpose of the site (Ask yourself if the purpose is to inform, sale, or to influence)
- Information that is current and up to date (Find out when the site was last updated)
- The author’s contact information
- Professional looking, attractive, and easy to navigate
Common indicators of poor Web site credibility
- No dates
- Bad grammar or misspelled words
- Old, outdated information
- Biased views
- No way to contact author
- A lot of generalised statements
- Lack of quality control
- Conflict of interest
- Site is confusing and difficult to navigate
- Absence of source documentation
The vast majority of research conducted today uses the Internet as a primary source. It is critical that the data being collected online is an accurate reflection of facts and is not merely conjecture, opinion, or old information.
Further information can be found at the following sites