Determining a Credible Web Source


1.      Check the website to determine the author

a.       Evaluate the author if possible

                                                               i.      Responsible authors cite their sources

                                                             ii.      Date – be conscientious of the date of material. 

                                                           iii.      Author purpose – is the author POV neutral or biased?

                                                           iv.      Qualifications, credentials and connection to the subject

2.      If you cannot determine an author be sure the information is from a reputable institution

a.       Respected university

b.      Credible media outlet

c.       Government program or department

d.      Well known non-governmental organization.

3.      Use caution when:

a.       You cannot determine how the information is reviewed

                                                               i.      Example: Wikipedia – collaboratively developed by users and anyone can add or change content.

4.      Type of Websites:

a.       Personal pages – maintained by individuals. 

b.      Special interest – maintained by non-profit or activists

                                                               i.      By nature are biased

c.       Professional sites – maintained by institutions or organizations and sometimes individuals. 

d.      News and Journalistic sites – national and international news, online newspapers, magazines, etc. 

                                                               i.      Just because info is published does not mean it’s true.  Check for an ISSN number to increase credibility.

e.       Commercial sites – businesses. 

                                                               i.      Naturally biased in favor of products sold

                                                             ii.      Caution inflated claims for performance and quality.

5.      Deconstruct the web address (URL)

a.", broken down into its components, is (from the lowest to highest): the file "University Policy #60" - Responsible Use of Computing ("60.html"), is linked in a Web page called "University Administration Policies"  ("administrative"). The "University Administration Policies" page is linked on a Web page called the "Faculty/Staff  Information" ("facstaff"), which a link on MasonLink the GMU home page, which server is called: "" 

6.      Common Domain Names

a.       .edu – educational sites

b.      .gov – government sites

c.       .org – organization sites

d.      .com – commercial sites

e.       .net – network infrastructures.




Wikipedia – Credible or Not?

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales was asked, “Do you think students and researchers should cite Wikipedia?  He said, “No, I don’t think people should cite it and I don’t think people should cite Britannica either.  People shouldn’t be citing encyclopedias in the first place.  Wikipedia and other encyclopedias should give good, solid background information to inform your studies for a deeper level.”

What does this mean? 
In short, Wikipedia is a great place to start your research.  Wikipedia has a lot of information available; however, trustworthiness of the information found on Wikipedia is questionable.  Generally, the information found on Wikipedia is accurate due to the use of encyclopedia editors.


Why NOT to cite Wikipedia!

Simple – the way information is added!  Wikipedia uses a collaborative effort and many times when information is first added it is unbalanced, biased and incomplete and it takes time for contributors to develop a consensus.  Basically, anyone can post information on a topic, which is an approach where all contributors work together on the final outcome.


How to use Wikipedia as a research tool!

1.      Use a search engine to begin your research

a.       Wikipedia tends to be the first or second result in most searches.

2.      If Wikipedia is one of the top search results, click on the link and begin reading the Wikipedia entry.

3.      Become familiar with the topic based on the entry

4.      Notice any links within the entries.

a.       Many links will lead to the original source of information.

b.      Evaluate the trustworthiness or credibility of the linked source.

5.      Read the entire entry!

a.       At the bottom of most entries is a list of sources.

                                                                 i.      These are great places to start your research. 

                                                               ii.      Evaluate each of these sources for trustworthiness or credibility.  

6.      If more sources are needed revert back to the search engine results.




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