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Rural Sociology

Evaluating Websites (Activity)

You are the ultimate judge of the information you find on the Internet!!

grainy graphic of a judge with a gavel in hand


Why do we say this? The majority of Web documents are mounted independently without the benefit of editorial oversight or fact checking. Anyone can publish on the Web. Therefore, YOU are responsible for ensuring that any website you use for your research contains reliable information.

Keep in mind that databases you access through the WSU Libraries, such as Academic Search Complete and Lexis-Nexis, are professionally produced and contain articles which have been scrutinized much more thoroughly.

You may find materials via the web from library databases to be more accurate and trustworthy than those found from sites such as Yahoo and Google. Subscription databases are more select in the material they include.

I. Look carefully at the website you are considering and answer these questions:

  • Date
    • Is the site up-to-date?
    • Can you easily tell when it was published?
  • Coverage
    • How relevant is the site to your research topic? Can you find more relevant material?
    • Is the topic covered in-depth enough for your needs?
  • Authority
    • Can you identify the author or publisher?
    • How reputable is the author’s work on the topic?
  • Objectivity
    • Is the author trying to sway opinion?
    • Is there only one opinion present in the page?
    • How does the information presented compare to other sources you’ve looked at?
    • Does the author cite where he/she got the information?
  • Accuracy
    • Are the facts clearly presented and easily understood?
    • Can you find factual errors or discrepancies on the page?

II. Consider the URL when assessing web sites

Look at the first section of the website’s URL. What are the last three letters you see? Most likely, they are one of the following:

  • .com Commercial sites with the purpose of selling products or services.
  • .gov State or federal governmental agencies. Perhaps more reliable, but you should still assume there might be mistakes, information left out, and occasionally inaccurate information.
  • .edu Educational (university) sites. We’d like to think these are among the most reliable of sites. But individual students and professors can have their own personal pages under this domain, so you should still check the facts to ensure accuracy.
  • .org Organizational sites. Many of these sites may have some kind of bias. Again, check the information presented for accuracy.
  • .biz Business sites set up for the purpose of selling products or services.

These are just a few of the most common Internet domains you are likely to run across. While we cannot necessarily say that any of these domains are always unreliable or reliable, you may be able to make some assumptions about the individuals who published the site.

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