How Do I Evaluate Web Sources?

Using the Internet for academic research can be tricky if you do not critically evaluate the sources you find. Internet resources can seem legitimate in appearance and content. Remember, anyone can publish anything on the Web about any topic.

The CACAO acronym is an easy step-by-step guide to help you evaluate and determine whether a web site is reliable or questionable. Below you'll find the five steps to review when evaluating web resources:

urrency     

  • Does the site indicate when it was last updated?
  • Look for clues in the text such as embedded dates or references to a past event
  • How current are the links?

This version of the The Catholic Encyclopedia, appearing free on the web, was written from 1907 to 1914. The latest version, published in 2003, is available online or in print, by subscription only.     

uthority   

  • Is there an author? Are they qualified or an expert? Look for clues such as "About the Author"
  • Where is the document published? Check the URL domain for .edu, .com, .gov, .org, .net, etc. to help determine its origin.

overage     

  • Is the site free or is there a fee for the information?
  • What topics are covered?
  • How in-depth is the material?
  • Is there a table of contents or a menu of choices to provide you the coverage of the subject?

The CIA's World Factbook, covering the country of Australia, features a simple table of contents including information on geography, population, economy and more

ccuracy

  • Is the information free of grammar and spelling errors?
  • Are charts and graphs clearly labeled and easy to read?
  • Did the author provide an email or other contact information?
  • Does the author cite the sources of information?

The Bibliography on the History of Cigarette Smoking provides informational sources on the topic from 1920-2000.

bjectivity

  • What is the general purpose of the Web site?
  • Are the creators of the site trying to sell you something?
  • Do the creators have a political bias or agenda?
  • Do you trust the creators of this site to provide you with accurate and complete information on this topic?
  • Are legal disclaimers included on the site?

Judge for yourself at the QuitSmoking.com Legal Disclaimer web site.

Interested in learning more about evaluation of web resources? Try this tutorial.