Over the last decade the Internet has become an invaluable resource for students and researchers and, of course, for the ‘general public’ too. Whoever the users are, it is essential that they approach the information explosion on the Internet critically. Anyone can publish online, and unlike peer-reviewed articles in journals, information on the web may not have been screened by independent experts.

Early on, many university libraries prepared guidelines for their students to evaluate material on the Internet. On this page we reproduce the general guidelines—both for website users and for those setting up a website— which was developed by the McIntyre Library of the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire.

Because so many practitioners and families in intellectual disability seek information and advice on health matters from the Internet, we’ve included a selection of websites that offer guidelines for general and health-related sites—websites evaluating websites.

  1. Content

What is the intent of the content? Are the title and author identified? Is the content ‘juried?’ Is the content ‘popular’ or ‘scholarly’, satiric or serious?> What is the date of the document or article? Is the ‘edition’ current? Do you have the latest version? (Is this important?) How do you know?

  1. Credibility

Is the author identifiable and reliable? Is the content credible? Authoritative? Should it be? What is the purpose of the information, that is, is it serious, satiric, humorous? Is the URL extension .edu, .com, .gov or .org? What does this tell you about the ‘publisher’?

  1. Critical Thinking

How can you apply critical thinking skills, including previous knowledge and experience, to evaluate Internet resources? Can you identify the author, publisher, edition, etc. as you would with a ‘traditionally’ published resource? What criteria do you use to evaluate Internet resources?

  1. Copyright

Even if the copyright notice does not appear prominently, someone wrote, or is responsible for, the creation of a document, graphic, sound or image, and the material falls under the copyright conventions.

‘Fair use’ applies to short, cited excerpts, usually as an example for commentary or research. Materials are in the ‘public domain’ if this is explicitly stated. Internet users, as users of print media, must respect copyright.

  1. Citations

Internet resources should be cited to identify sources used, both to give credit to the author and to provide the reader with avenues for further research. Standard style manuals (print and online) provide some examples of how to cite Internet documents, although standards have not yet been formally established.

  1. Continuity

Will the Internet site be maintained and updated? Is it now and will it continue to be free? Can you rely on this source over time to provide up-to-date information? Some good /.edu sites have moved to .com, with possible cost implications. Other sites offer partial use for free, and charge fees for continued or in-depth use.

  1. Censorship

Is your discussion list ‘moderated’? What does this mean? Does your search engine or index look for all words or are some words excluded? Is this censorship? Does your institution, based on its mission, parent organization or space limitations, apply some restrictions to Internet use? Consider censorship and privacy issues when using the Internet.

  1. Connectivity

If more than one user will need to access a site, consider each user’s access and ‘functionality’. How do users connect to the Internet and what kind of connection does the assigned resource require? Does access to the resource require a graphical user interface? If it is a popular (busy) resource, will it be accessible in the time frame needed? Is it accessible by more than one Internet tool? Do users have access to the same Internet tools and applications? Are users familiar with the tools and applications? Is the site ‘viewable’ by all Web browsers?

  1. Comparability

Does the Internet resource have an identified comparable print of CD Rom data set or source? Does the Internet site contain comparable and complete information? (For example, some newspapers have partial but not full text information on the Internet.) Do you need to compare data or statistics over time? Can you identify sources for comparable earlier or later data? Comparability of data may or may not be important, depending on your project.

  1. Context

What is the context for your research? Can you find ‘anything’ on your topic, that is, commentary, opinion, narrative, statistics and your quest will be satisfied? Are you looking for current or historical information? Definitions? Research studies or articles? How does Internet information fit in the overall information context of your subject? Before you start searching, define the research context and research needs and decide what sources might be best to use to successfully fill information needs without data overload.

(This guide is available on

OTHER WEBSITES OFFERING ADVICE ON THE CRITICAL EVALUATION OF WEBSITE CONTENT This article gives links to many other web articles on evaluation New Mexico State University University of British Columbia Library QUICK—the Quality Information Checklist (UK)­_new.htm: The Centre for Health Information Quality (UK) Johns Hopkins University


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