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Evaluating Resources: Websites

Introduction

The term website might be used to refer to anything you find on the Internet. People often use the word in this general way.

However, there is a distinction between online resources available through a Library database, and websites that anyone can find on the World Wide Web with a search engine. While Library resources are free to you, the Library pays for access to these resources for students and staff.

This page will talk about what you need to consider when evaluating a website available to anyone, not other resource types like e-books or articles that are available online through the Library. See our Publication Types pages to learn about identifying resources like journals or books that are available online.

Identify websites

How do you know you're looking at a website and not an online book or article? Use the Publication Types pages on the left to help you determine if the online resource you're viewing is actually a journal article, e-book, dissertation, encyclopedia, newspaper article, or conference proceeding.

You'll often find websites when you use a web search engine, like Google, to search for words or a topic. Google search results might include e-books, news articles, or journal articles as well as websites from an organization, company, government entity, or an individual. A Google search may also find results from personal, organizational, or news blogs or social media sites.

Next we'll look at how to determine who made the website, where the content comes from, and what that means for evaluating the website.

Types of websites

Many different types of websites exist; too many to cover in-depth here. For instance, some newspaper websites include articles but also might have blogs. A newspaper's blog is different than a personal blog from an individual.

When looking at any type of website, it's important to remain engaged in critical thinking to evaluate what you've found. Use these tips to help you decipher who owns the website and what type of information it has:

Look at the URL or web address

  • Government websites will have a web address that ends in or includes .gov in the URL. Military websites will contain .mil.
  • Educational institutions including college and university websites will end in or include .edu in the URL.
  • Organizations, including professional organizations, usually end in .org, however other entities might have a .org URL.
  • Many different website types could end in .com.

    In addition to these website types, there could be clues in the URL for websites coming from countries outside the United States.

    Click here for more information about website types and their web addresses from Xavier University.
     

Look for an About page

This will usually identify the source of the web page or provide information about the publishing entity. For instance, a personal blog might have an About page that identifies the author. A professional organization's About page should give the full name and contact information for the organization.
 

Look at the bottom of the website for identifying information

Sometimes you'll see information about the website in the footer, or bottom of, the webpage. You might also find copyright information there.
 

Aside from these tips for considering where the website comes from, use our other evaluation Questions to Consider section to help look for bias, credibility, and trustworthiness. Always read critically and fact-check websites to see if other sources agree.

News websites

Concerned about whether or not you are finding trustworthy news websites? How can you tell the reliable news sources from the fake ones?

This timely topic related to evaluating websites is covered in-depth on our Fact v. Fiction - Fake News Guide.