International Foundation Programme for Science: Evaluating Websites

Evaluating the quality of web content

You can be certain that Library Search, Web of Science, and other Library databases contain good quality academic material which will be suitable for use in your assignments.

Using an internet search engine to look up your assignment topic is a bit of a gamble however. You may well find some useful results (e.g. often you'll find academic journal articles which our databases also reference)  however you run the risk of locating web pages and sites of questionable academic merit. Websites may contain outdated or inaccurate information, they may show a particular bias, and their authors may be amateurs with an interest in a subject, rather than accredited experts.

A quick 5-step test you can use to evaluate the quality of websites is the CRAAP test. This stands for:

  • Currency: the timeliness of the information
              when was the site published?
              when was it last updated?
  • Relevance: the importance of the information in relation to your topic
             – is the information directly relevant to your topic or not?
             is it at an appropriate level for an academic assignment?
  • Accuracy: the reliability of the information
             – is there evidence of bias or errors?
             – are the sources listed? Are the sources reputable?
  • Authority: the source (author, publisher etc.)
             – can you identify the author or the sponsor, publisher, or organization providing the information?
             – are the author’s credentials or organizational affiliations listed?
  • Purpose: the reason the information has been published
             – what is the purpose of the information? To inform, teach, sell, entertain, or persuade?
             – is the information fact, opinion, or propaganda?

The person marking your assignment will not think highly of random sources found on the internet. If in doubt - leave it out!

The same story, told in a different way

Newspapers, and the media often report on scientific developments and research, and these reports can have wide spread dissemination in the community.  Unfortunately reporting is not always accurate and can over-simplify complex studies, and can sensationalise or trivialise what they are reporting

For example, compare these two reports on the same study:

Picture of mouse, mus musculus

Mus musculus by AJC1 licensed by CC BY-NC 2.0