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Biography: Evaluating Websites

This Research Guide lists library and online resources related to finding biographical information.

It is important to evaluate the quality of information provided by any resource that you use, but this is particularly so for websites. Since any person or organization can create a website, the user must take on the responsibility for determining the accuracy and relevance of the material on that site. This page serves as a guide to help you evaluate websites.

"...when presented with a new site that needs to be evaluated, professional fact-checkers don’t spend much time on the site itself. Instead they get off the page and see what other authoritative sources have said about the site." 

~From Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers, Chapter 16 "What 'Reading Laterally' Means," by Michael A. Caulfield

The ABC Test

Use the ABC test to help you determine the credibility of a website.

Authority:

The source of the information

Who is the author, publisher, source, or sponsor?
What are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations?
Is the author qualified to write on the topic?
MOST IMPORTANT: Lateral Reading

Lateral Reading

  • Leave the website, open new tabs, and seek additional information about a website's credibility, reputation, funding, and potential biases.
  • Don't just rely on the information found on the website itself. Don't take their word for it. See what others have to say.
  • Lateral reading allows you to get a more complete perspective on the credibility of a source.

From Univ of Louisville Libraries Citizen Literacy Toolkit

Bias:

The purpose and point of view of the information

What is the purpose of the information? Is it to inform, to teach, to sell, to entertain?
Do the authors or sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
Is the information fact, opinion, or propaganda?
Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
Are multiple perspectives included? 
What bias do you bring to the topic? Are you only looking for sources that confirm your current beliefs?

Be Aware of Confirmation Bias

"The first step in countering confirmation bias is to recognize it in ourselves. Then we can guard against it by getting our news from a wide range of credible sources, reading opinion columns from a variety of viewpoints, and including these varied perspectives in our social media posts."

From the News Literacy Project - "Don't Let Confirmation Bias Narrow Your Perspective."

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, and recall information in a way that supports what we already believe. News Literacy Project

Currency:

The timeliness of the information

When was the information published or posted?
Has the information been revised or updated?
Does your topic require current or historical information?
Are the links functional? Do they take you to updated information sources?

 

Web Address Clues

Look at the web address for clues about the quality of the information. The last part of a website address is the domain suffix and can give you an idea about the quality of the site. Some common examples are .com, .org, .edu, and .gov.

Restricted top level domains (only qualified entities can use these domains):

  • .edu - associated with a U.S. school, school district, or university
  • .gov - created by the U.S. government

Unrestricted top level domains (anyone, good or bad, can use these domains):

  • .com
  • .org
  • .net

You can learn more about domains from the Center for Internet Security.

Research Tutorials