GPC Libraries -- Clarkston Library (JCLRC)
Examining Web Pages

Examining Web Pages

Deciding whether to use a particular web page or include web pages at all in your research is difficult. Making this decision is easier if you keep in mind what information you need and if you ask several basic questions.

Should you use the web at all? If you want copyrighted information such as books and journal or magazine articles, you will NOT find that information on the web. Copyright covers most material written after 1923. Most publishers have absolutely no interest in making this information freely available.

If you need books and journal articles, both GALILEO, which has licensed databases of copyrighted articles, and GIL, which lists GPC's book and nonprint collections, are far better resources.

To tell if a web page is reliable, look for the answers to several basic questions.

Who wrote your web page? Can you find an author's name at all? Does he or she use both his/her first and last names? People of stature want you to see them and find them. Such authors stand proudly behind their work. To provide information about an author, most web sites have an About or Contact link. Sometimes a site gives clues as to an author's qualifications. An absent author or one who refuses to leave his/her last name is not an author who is worth your trust.

Who published your web page? Is it an organization or broadcaster whom you recognize? This includes: CNN, the BBC, the New York Times etc... as well as university departments and professional associations. Legitimate organizations, like individuals of stature, want you to see and find them. Legitimate publishers list a first name and last if they are individuals and a physical address if they are corporations or groups. To learn more about a web page publisher, click the About, Contact, or Mission link. A publisher without contact information is highly suspect.

What if you don't recognize the organization or individual that publishes your web page? Ask a librarian or professor to view the page and give his/her opinion. Also compare the information on the page to what you have read in books and journals. It is easy to find groups and organizations of which you have never heard that nonetheless produce good work.

Is your web page current? Check for the date of last revision. Sometimes webmasters post this. Check the dates of articles in a works cited if one is available or the dates of current news links. Look for dead links and broken graphics. FireFox and Mozilla let you see the last "date of modification" of any web page. This gives a fairly precise age. If you need current information, a page that has been left to rot for five years is not for you.

Are there pages you should always avoid?

Try not to use pages that are more than half filled with advertisements. Some commercial sites are excellent for consumer information and even feature annual reports. Others exist just to sell and give no useful information. Please read such pages carefully. Of course, avoid term paper mills. The papers there are seldom free and their quality is questionable.