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Evaluating Online Sources: FAQs

A guide to help you decipher what is credible and what is not.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

1. Can you determine how credible a website is based on its domain (e.g., .com, .org., .edu, .gov). 

In the earlier days of the Internet domain names (e.g., .com, .org) were generally more meaningful than they are today. Now there is often little distinction between a website with a .com or a .org domain. And while .edu indicates that a webpage is affiliated with an institution of higher education in some capacity, you should look more carefully as what that affiliation is (for example, a personal website of anyone who works or studies at that institution vs. the official website of a research institute affiliated with that institution).
In other words, examining a web site domain is one method in a multi-step process in evaluating a web site, but it is not always a gold standard methodology in determining the credibility of a web site.  Just because a web site has an educational domain (.edu) it does not make it more credible than a .com or a .gov.  Using lateral reading techniques introduced in our workshop can help you determine if a website is credible.  In short, there is no shortcut to spot a bad website from a domain alone. Warner Library has a Research Guide dedicated to understanding Wikipedia issues. Click the link below.

2. Isn't there a simple checklist I can use to evaluate an online source?

In the past librarians often taught students to employ checklists to determine if web content was reliable. These checklists while helpful often create more questions, and then confusion, then they answer. The SIFT method, while it requires you to think critically, actually makes the process easier and leads to less confusion. Furthermore, we recommend when in doubt have a collaborative conversation with a fellow scholar. Have a peer look at the material, SIFT it, and ask questions. Ultimately, you can always check with your professor.