Evaluating Information

Websites Overview

The Internet is a big place with lots of information. There are countless websites out there, and new ones are popping up every day. How can you tell which ones are trustworthy? One way includes looking at the domain, or the ending of a basic URL. Click through the different types of domains below to learn more about them.

Website Types

Commercial Websites

A .com domain is for commercial organizations, usually trying to sell you something. These domains are the most common, and they’re very easy to acquire. Most .com websites would not be considered scholarly.

Network Websites

A .net domain is short for network, and is commonly used by institutions or corporations. It was originally meant to be reserved for companies like Internet service providers, which dealt with networks, but restrictions weren’t enforced stringently.

Professional Organization Websites

The .org domain is usually reserved for nonprofit organizations, though other organizations can obtain this domain. Communities, schools, and other companies can also purchase a .org domain.

Educational Institution Websites

The .edu domain is reserved for educational institutions, like universities. These institutions can be located in the United States, where the URL will end in .edu, or in other countries, where the URL will contain .edu elsewhere. Some universities will not include .edu in their domain name. This means you might have to work a bit harder to determine whether these websites are scholarly or not.

Government and Military Websites

The .gov and .mil domains are reserved for governmental entities, such as national agencies, federal-, state-, county-, city-, and town-related governments, and Native American tribes. U.S. Military organizations will use the .mil domain. Since governmental agencies publish data on these sites, they can be considered scholarly for the most part. Remember to evaluate these sites just as stringently, though!

How to Evaluate a Website

Evaluation Tips

To evaluate a website, review the following elements: 

  • Publication date (or date last updated)
    • When was the page created or updated? A lot of information exists on the internet and not all of it is current. 
  • Author(s), editors(s), sponsoring institution/organization
    • What are the authors' credentials? Are they qualified to publish data on the topic? Are the authors affiliated with an institution that lends credibility to their stance? 
  • Publisher
    • What organization supports or published the information? For example, a professor's personal webpage might not have the same impact as the departmental page for the university they teach at. 
  • Methodology or process by which the data were gathered or claims were established
    • If the website is claiming new information to be true, do the authors show how they came to that conclusion?
  • Accuracy (do other websites say the same thing?)
    • Can you corroborate the claims on other reputable websites? If you're reading information on a GeoCities personal webpage about how aliens just landed in New York City, you may need to double-or or triple-check those claims. 
  • Domain type (.com, .org, .net, .edu, .gov, etc.)
    • The domain type of a website can lend an amount of credibility to the site's claims. Is it a commercial website? Run by the government? Hosted by a university? 
  • Purpose
    • Why was the website content written? Is it meant to inform, persuade, entertain, or does it have another purpose?