Evaluating Web Sites for Use in Academic Essays

  1. Is the information on the Web site fully documented?
    Proper documentation (following MLA or APA guidelines) is the best indication that the author is responsible and conscientious and that the information is worth considering. If there are no citations, then the article is simply presenting editorial comment. The comments may be insightful, but they are not necessarily based on objective evidence.
  2. Can you confirm the accuracy of the references?
    A good habit to maintain is to randomly check two or three of the references for accuracy. Even a small sample helps establish, or discredit, the academic integrity of the author. 
  3. Is the author identified?
    Intellectual ownership of an article is an important consideration. If no one wants to admit to being the author, why not? Is it possible to e-mail the author or verify the author’s credentials?
  4. What is the author’s background?
    Background elements such as academic training and previous publishing do not guarantee the integrity or accuracy of the material on a public Web page, but it helps tip the scale in that direction.
  5. How current is the information?
    Is the information dated? New research findings appear almost daily in every field. Be sure that the information you are using is the most up-to-date you can find.
  6. On what Web site does the information reside?
    Commercial sites (.com) often have a vested interest in making money; university sites (.edu) traditionally strive to be objective and fair.
  7. Is the Web site trying to sell you a product or service such as on-line counseling or software?
    Again, purely commercial sites are in the business of making money, not furthering the academic endeavour.
  8. Does the site have a moderator or editorial board to review submissions?
    The academic community reviews the accuracy of material through qualified and un-biased moderators. Once an article has been reviewed by a panel of professional researchers or academics, you can have more confidence in the integrity of the material.
  9. Does the site appear to spend more effort on visual presentation and advertising than written content?
    When you read an academic journal, you are rarely struck by the visual graphics or the beautiful models on the high-gloss cover. Also, they contain no advertising. Web sites that appear too glitzy and convey advertising may lack useful content.
  10. All things considered, do you feel you can trust the material on the site?
    At the end of the day you are responsible for filtering through your resources by reflecting on your own training and experience. If you are confident that the materials you referenced from the Web are accurate, then they probably are.