Evaluating Information Online

How do you know when you can trust a website’s information? Or how can you teach a patron or student to evaluate online information? Heck, sometimes the question is how can you convince your patron of the need to evaluate websites’ validity? Just because something is in print, does not automatically mean it is trustworthy. The information may not be willfully wrong, but through time and/or personal biases, it can be misleading or out of date.

Information literacy is the ability to know that information is needed, understand how the information is organized, identify the best sources of information for a given need, figure out how to find those sources, evaluate the sources critically, and share that information. This skill is more important than ever as the amount of information multiplies online. For the purposes of this post, we will assume that the user knows he/she need information, has figured out where to find it, and understands how it is organized. This post will focus on how to evaluate the information. The following categories are the Who / Where / What / How’s of evaluating information. Who wrote it? Where/when was it written? What is the information and is it accurate? How and why was it written?

Credibility / Authority

: the source of the information

  • who wrote the information?
  • if you can’t determine who wrote something, who owns the website? 
  • if you can’t figure out who owns the website, check the Who Is database at http://allwhois.com/. It is a free database that displays public information about who owns the domain address, and where it is hosted.
  • is the author qualified to write about this topic?
  • does the URL reveal anything about the author? i.e. .com, .org, .edu, .gov


: the timeliness of the information

  • when was the website/information written or posted?
  • has the information been updated?
  • does your topic require the most up to date information?
  • are any links in the website broken?


: the suitability of this information for your needs

  • does this information answer your question?
  • is the information written in a way you understand?
  • is the information written for the appropriate reading/age level?
  • have you considered other resources? is this the best one that you have looked at?
  • are you willing to cite this website in your bibliography? (if applicable)


: the reliability, trustworthiness, and correctness of the information

  • where does the information come from?
  • has the information been checked, or reviewed by others?
  • is there evidence to support the information?
  • does the information seem to be wriiten in a way that indicates bias? i.e. personal attacks, emotional language, or political rhetoric


: the reason the information was shared

  • why was the topic written about and shared online? to inform, to teach, to sell, or to persuade
  • does the author display or state any political, religious, or cultural, or other affiliations that might color the content of the information?
  • how are you going to use the information?
  • does this information fulfill your need?

Good luck! There is a mountain of information out there, and these are just a few tools to help you and your patrons to sort through it to locate the best and most appropriate content.

“Evaluating Information-Applying the CRAAP Test.” Meriam Library, University of California. Accessed April 9, 2012. <http://www.csuchico.edu/lins/handouts/eval_websites.pdf>
“Evaluating WEb Pages.” UC Berkley. Access April 9, 2012. <http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/TeachingLib/Guides/Internet/Evaluate.html>

About shortlibrarian

I am a woman working in the Twin Cities as a programming Librarian.
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