What to Look For
Navigation bar: this will help you answer WHO, WHERE, and WHY.
- Any well-constructed website should have a navigation bar, somewhere along the top or side of the website, to help you easily travel to the different pages on the site. This should include links to important information about the organization publishing the website, for example. A lack of a navigation bar, or an unclear navigation bar, does not give the site much credibility.
"About Us" page: this will help you answer WHO, WHY.
- On any website, look for information about the organization publishing the site. A lack of an "about us" page should raise a red flag for you: why won't this organization tell you who they are and why they have created this site?
Mission statement: this will help you answer WHO, WHAT, and WHY.
- Reputable and authoritative organizations will post their mission statement prominently on their website to tell visitors why their website was created and what type of information you will find on their site. Look for an "About Us" or "Mission Statement" link on the website. If you can't find one, ask yourself why the creators of the website won't tell you more about themselves.
Citations: these will help you answer WHAT, WHEN, and WHY.
- Anything that is written by an outside source and quoted or referred to on the website should be clearly cited, and you should be able to find those sources easily! If the website offers information from an outside party, but does not offer citations or links to the original content, that diminishes the accuracy and reliability of the information. Citations and links will also help you evaluate the currency of the information on the website.
URL: this will help you answer WHERE, WHO, and WHY.
- Examining the website's URL (Uniform Resource Locator) will tell you something about who created the website, whether or not they are an expert in the field, and even what purpose the website serves. For more information on evaluating a URL, see our Examining a URL page.
Advertisements: these will help you answer WHY, WHO.
- Almost every website contains advertisements of some kind, but pay attention to who is advertising on the website and how many advertisements appear. Freely available online resources make their money in part from hosting advertisements; this means that their content may support, in part or in whole, the agenda of the companies and organizations advertising on their site. Ask yourself who gains from advertisements, what the ads support, and who (or what company) is paying for a website's content.
Test the Links: this will help you answer questions about WHEN, WHERE, and WHY.
- Don't just sit on one page, click around through the website! If a website contains broken links, or links that take you to pages that don't exist anymore, this is a good indicator that the website is either out-of-date and no longer currently maintained, or that it was never a credible resource at all. Similarly, pay attention to which outside websites the site links to - these outside sources can easily reveal a hidden bias in the original website, or detract from the overall credibility of the site.