Scholars and librarians have come up with guidelines to judge the quality of information sources, and these general recommendations apply to websites. These criteria come from the following college library sites: http://lib.nmsu.edu/instruction/evalcrit.html, and http://www.library.cornell.edu/okuref/research/webcrit.html.
A high quality website source contains accurate information that can be verified by other sources. The information should be free of spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes. There should be evidence of an editor or fact checker who is responsible for making sure that the information is correct.
It should be clear who the author is and what credentials he/she has. If the author is an expert or has higher credentials, the information is more likely to be useful. There should be an email address listed or other contact information. If the page is anonymous, there is no one to hold accountable for erroneous information.
Pay attention to where the document was published. Information published at .edu, .org, or .gov sites is usually preferred to information from .com sites since it was most likely published by a school or organization rather than a business.
Find out who sponsored the website and who the advertisers are. The credibility of the sponsor may reveal something about the quality of the information presented.
An objective source will contain more quality information than a heavily biased source. When viewing a website, notice any explicit or implied biases. If the page is an advertisement or endorsement, there may be financial motivations to provide biased information. The advertising should be clearly differentiated from the informational content of the site. It should be clear why the site was created and for whom.
The accuracy of an information source is often influenced by how recently it was created. For topics such as technology, science, and medicine it is especially important to have current information. To avoid outdated information, find out when the page was created and how often it is updated. Look for the date of the last revision. Check the links -- often older websites have links that have expired or whose targets have moved.
It is important to consider the level of information coverage a website contains. The purpose and scope of the website should be specific and well defined. The most useful websites cover a variety of topics and/or cover a topic in-depth. A site index, site map, or FAQ should be provided to help navigate the site and give the user some idea of the extent of the site's coverage. A quality website is highly interactive and will offer users services and information not found elsewhere. It is important that information be cited correctly and permission and/or licensing be obtained for the use of copyrighted images and multimedia materials. The information should be free of charge.
Judging the quality of a website can be very subjective. Sites are created for a variety of reasons -- for art, education, entertainment, commercial and business purposes, as well as for information or personal use. The quality of a website must be judged within the context of its purpose; however there are a few rules that all websites should follow. To find out more about these guidelines, visit the World Wide Web Consortium. This organization is attempting to create guidelines and specifications for the Web that promote universal access, responsible use, and user friendliness. When judging a website, be sure to examine the five areas listed below. These criteria are taken loosely from the judging criteria at World Best Websites which has a five-star points system for determining the "best" sites on the Web.
It is important that a website be as universally accessible as possible. For a website to be highly accessible, it will load quickly, and be viewable in different browsers, operating systems and monitor resolutions. It will also provide access to people with disabilities and from different levels of educational and cultural backgrounds. When making a Web site, follow the guidelines of the Web Accessibility Initiative. A good way to verify that your website is very accessible is to use a tool such as the free HTML validation service from the World Wide Web Consortium at http://validator.w3.org/. For tips on writing HTML with high accessibility, see the University of Washington's Access IT website.
The design of a website is a very important element to consider when judging overall quality. Good websites have a design that is visually appealing, readable, easy to navigate, and reinforces the purpose of the site while giving it a unified look and feel. The Web Style Guide is an excellent resource for the basics of website, Web page, and Web graphic design.
Use the Criteria for Assessing the Quality of Information listed above: accuracy, authority, objectivity, currency, and coverage.
You can judge a site on how the technologies used add to (or detract from) the purpose of the site. The site should use new technologies and the multimedia nature of the Web to allow user interactivity and make the experience different from reading a book, listening to the radio or watching a TV show. Message and bulletin boards, surveys, videos, games, online tests, audio selections, chat rooms, broadcasting, and search technologies are just a few of the ways technology can be used to make a website more interactive.
Creative and original websites can be more fun to use because of their novelty and ingenuity. A good website is distinguishable from other websites, and should give you something that you can't find elsewhere. It should be distinct and memorable and give a good over-all impression.
See our Website Evaluation Questions page for a list of questions to help you assess the quality of information on a website or evaluate a website.
The National Center on Accessible Information Technology in Education.
Thinking Critically About World Wide Web Resources
Suggests items to consider when before using a website as a source.
World Wide Web Consortium
An organization that provides guidelines and specifications for the Web that promote universal access, responsible use, and user friendliness.
World Best Websites Judging Criteria
Websites are judged by a five-star points system that attempts to determine the "best" sites on the Web.
Web Accessibility Initiative
Guidelines from the World Wide Web Consortium for a more accessible Web site.
Web Style Guide
An excellent resource for the basics of website, Web page, and Web graphic design.
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