Evaluate a Webpage Like a Librarian

So you’re researching your paper topic, and you’ve found a great webpage that you’d like to use for your assignment. That’s great, but there are a few things you should consider before committing to including a webpage in your reference list. Websites and webpages are quick and easy-to-find information sources, but they should be treated with care and special attention. Here are some questions that you should ask yourself that will help you evaluate a webpage just like a librarian would to determine if the content included is trustworthy.

A librarian would also cite any source they use in a project. You can easily do the same with help from Cite This For Me. Try out our Harvard referencing generator, read our guide on MLA citations, or create citations in thousands of source types.

Is the domain/website credible?

A good place to start evaluating a webpage is to ask yourself whether or not the domain or website that contains your article is well-known and credible.

For example, an article found on the Encyclopedia Britannica website can generally be considered as credible, as it’s published by a very popular and trusted resource. In contrast, a personal blog post or a post in a comment section of a webpage may not be as easily defined as credible, as there is less of a publishing history for these types of articles.

Is the website open sourced?

Another item to consider is whether or not the domain your article is published on is an “open-sourced” platform or not. A website that is open-sourced generally means that anyone, both inside and outside of the publishing organization, can contribute to content creation on that website. Wikipedia is perhaps the best-known example of an open-sourced platform. While many open-source websites are regulated and edited for accuracy, some do this better than others, and any information you cite from a website like this should be validated and fact-checked separately.

Does the author of the webpage have clear bias?

There are occasions where bias in an article on a website is obvious, such as in an opinion piece from an online newspaper. But author bias in other types of webpages is more difficult to detect and should be considered when evaluating the resource.

The contributor or author’s personal bias, or inclination towards only one point of view on the topic, is not always accounted for on sites like blogs and personal websites. Therefore, you are much more likely to find more accurate, bias-free, and complete information for your paper in scholarly journals or webpages from reputable organization written by experts in their field. 

Is the information presented too general or lacking in data?

Some webpages are great places to learn the general concepts around a topic, but may lack more detailed analysis. Sources like this should be carefully evaluated, since they do not provide users with complete information on their chosen paper topic. This could potentially lead to holes in your argument or errors in your work that you did not anticipate. Using a robust, varied group of sources for your paper is the best way to learn more about your topic and to write the most well-informed and unique paper as possible.

What types of sources, if any, does the author of the webpage cite?

When evaluating a webpage prior to including it in your reference list, it is a good idea to look at the references to other sources that the author of the webpage made to support their argument. Generally found at the bottom of the article, these links and references can tell you a lot about the credibility of the site, since a trustworthy site would likely only reference other trustworthy sources. These sources can also be helpful in continuing your research and may lead you to more academically respected publications that you can use as sources in your paper.

After evaluating a website, are you ready to make a citation for your reference list? Check out the citation generator on Cite This For Me to make APA citations, an in text citation for a website, and other bibliographic tasks.