GPC Libraries -- Clarkston Library (JCLRC)
Web Site Questions and Answers

Web Site Questions and Answers

What? –- What is your page about?


  • Is the page's content useful to my paper or project? If it's not, then find another page.

  • Can you understand the content? If you don't understand a web page can you use it?

Why? -– Why does your web page exist, and what is the purpose of its contents?

  • Is your page a news site? NPR, CNN, the New York Times and BBC all produce reliable news with a lot of freely available content. A few news sites require registration.

    News sites also sponsor blogs and link to those the editors consider worth while. Sponsorship and links give those blogs credibility.

  • Is your page a court decision, a piece of legislation, or some other government document? These are often dense, dry, and difficult to read, but they are primary sources and extremely good for your research.

  • Is your page a personal expression, diary, blog, or social network site (Facebook or MySpace)?

  • Is your page a celebrity or business fan page on Facebook? These are partially primary sources, if you want to know a company or famous person's point of view.

  • Is the page a scholarly article (Hint: scholarly articles usually end with a Works Cited.) ? Most scholarly articles that are freely available on the web are either older, in the life sciences, or in physics. Newer articles and those in other fields hide behind publisher's pay walls.

  • Is your page a journal publisher's web site? These usually only have tables of contents and abstracts NOT the full text of articles for free. Publishers charge for articles due to copyright. If you find an article you like on a publisher's site, the library can help you find it.

  • Does the site provide consumer information? This can include classified advertisements, a store locator, a web board etc…? Is this what you need?

  • Does the site exist primarily to sell a product or service? If you are writing about the product or company that produces it, that may make such a web site a primary source. If you are in the market for the product or service that is for sale is such a web site useful? If you are writing a different sort of assignment would such a page still be useful?

  • If you are unsure of a web page's purpose, what should you do?

Who? -– Who wrote and/or published your web page?

  • If the author is an individual, does he/she include his/her first and last name and any real world contact or work-related information? An "affiliation" is an employer and job position. An affiliation boosts a web site author's credibility.

  • If the author is an organization, does it include real world contact information such as a physical (mailing) address and phone number?

  • Is the individual or organization a person or group that you recognize?

  • Is the individual or organization the subject of your paper or project? If so, the web page is a primary source, which means it is a first hand account. Primary sources are very valuable.

  • If you are unfamiliar with the author or publisher of your web page, what should you do?

When? – How old is your web page? When did it receive its last update?

  • What is the date of the "latest news" or last update?

  • What are the newest dates of material in the "Works Cited" if there is one?

  • What are the dates of the most recent blog entries if a blog is part of the site?

  • What are the dates of the most recent changes/revisions (look for the link for this) if the site is a wiki?

  • Do most of the links included on the site still work?

  • Are the images all still there or have some of them broken?

  • Why is a page's date important?

  • What is the copyright date?

  • If the copyright date on the bottom of a page is today's date, does it always mean the page received an update today?

Common Web Evaluation Issues

Advertisements –- Just as with print media, a fair portion of the web is "ad supported." Usually this is not a problem unless pop-ups become annoying, it is hard to distinguish advertising from "real" page content, or you feel that a web site compromises your privacy to gather marketing information.

Registrations -– Quite a few sites require signups either to permit replies or to see all the material. If you like the site and visit often or want to comment, then register. Registration exists to prevent spam. Sites requiring registration for complete access include: the Los Angeles Times, Slashdot.com, and BiomedCentral.

Wikipedia -- Wikipedia works well for quick facts, but it is a tertiary source. This means that editors find the information for their articles in secondary sources. Feel free to use the works cited lists at the ends of Wikipedia articles to locate source material, but don't be disappointed if these do not have what you want or the sources to which they lead are not available as full text on the web.

Copyright -– Everything is NOT on the web due to copyright. This means that most journal and magazine articles, and most books published after 1923 are not on the web. This is why the library and the college subscribe to GALILEO databases, eBooks at EBSCOHost, and also why they still purchase print titles.

Top Level Domains -– The top level domain of a web site: whether it is a .com, .org, .us, .edu or . anything else tells you absolutely nothing about a web site's content. Colleges and universities routinely host students' and professors' personal web pages, while most other domains are for available to any one who cares to pay a reasonable fee.

Eileen H. Kramer
May 30, 2012