Skip to Main Content

Current & Controversial Issues

Evaluating Web Sources: Who, What, When, Where, Why, How

Not all information presented on the Web is researched, subjected to oversight, or suitable for college research. Here are some questions you can ask of your source to determine whether the content is suitable for your research. Identifying the answers to these basic signs of credibility will guide you in critically examining your sources.

1. WHO wrote it?
Is there an author listed as the creator of the article, page or site? Can you contact them? Do they list their credentials? Find out more information about the author by doing a search on the Internet with the author’s name. You could also search within the library’s databases to look for other articles by or about the author.

An article is more reliable and credible if an author is identified. Not all credible sources of information have to have a specific author listed; for instance, a basic information page about an organization or document issued from a government agency. However, scholarly content is always authored and researched. 

2. WHO owns it?
Who owns the site and are they reputable? If the site owner is not visible, truncate parts of the URL (web address) to go back to main parts of the site. For example, this article on emotional intelligence at <> is hosted at the The Wharton School (business college) at the University of Pennsylvania at <>. If you cannot tell very much from the site owner by their home page or web address, you can search for information about the site owner. 

Similar to the question, "Who Wrote It?", the credibility of information is linked to the entity that posted the information. For example, if a site or publisher posts a medical article about the benefits of a certain medication, but also sells that medication, you might question if they are offering the information to sell more products or can be trusted to conduct unbiased medical research. You might still be able to use the webpage article in your research, but will need to find other confirming sources.

3. WHO links to it?
Is this site listed in a subject directory? Take a look the MCC Library's Research Guides or the Austin Community College's Research Guides. Do other sites link to the article, website or author's other publications? You can check for a scholarly article's usage by going to Google Scholar. Search for the article you are evaluating and then click on "Cited by #." This will allow you to evaluate your scholarly article sources based on its impact with other scholars.

4. WHAT is on the page to add to or take away from the value of the information?
Be wary of 1) offensive language or photos, 2) sponsored ads, 3) poor design of the site, 4) required fees or registration, except for scholarly journals and journal sites, 5) no identification of sources used or cited, or 6) the site or page lacking identification of the author, site owner, or contact information for the author or owner.

5. WHEN was the information created or updated?
Is there a publication date given? Often a page may have been updated even if the information included on the page was not. Look for dates associated with the publication of the information or article. This is particularly important with subject areas in which currency of information is critical (medicine, nursing, technology, etc).

6. WHERE is this site?
While this is no longer a hard and fast rule, some Internet domains provide higher quality information than others. Organizational (org), governmental (gov) or educational sites (edu) will have more oversight in the content hosted. Is the page or site part of a blog, discussion forum, or other site providing user opinions rather than scholarly analysis?

7. WHY did the owner or author publish the information?
What are their intentions? Is the purpose to give a balanced and researched view of a topic, inform, educate, persuade, or train? Is the purpose to entertain, sell, misinform, sensationalize, promote a certain bias agenda or fictionalize? Is the content opinion, personal narrative, verifiable fact, or researched information?

8. HOW can the information on the web page or site benefit your paper or project?
Is the content from the source appropriate for your assignment? Is the article long enough for your informational needs? Are you being asked for scholarly analysis, factual reporting of events, evidence for a research claim, statistics, or general information? Make sure the reading level, sources, and information are all suitable for your paper or project.

News Accuracy and Bias (Abbreviated Text)

When deciding which news sources to incorporate into your work, consider accuracy and bias. The Media Bias Chart creates a chart to help consumers understand how news sources rank on both. (Click the chart below to launch the online version of the chart.) If you have found a source and want to know if it's reliable, use the search box in the interactive chart to search for a specific media outlet by name.

The Media Bias Chart

Media Bias Chart image licensed from Ad Fontes Media

Beware of Fake or False Information

Teachers and librarians have long told students to carefully evaluate the information they plan to use in their research. "Fake news" is a popular term amid concerns about the increase of incorrect information and its impact on public opinion. Whether such news is intentionally misleading or results from poor fact-checking, you should carefully examine all sources of information you read and share.

There are many websites and news sources that contribute to the spread of false or fake information to readers:

1.  Outrageous article titles that are misleading (click-bait). Publishers intentionally use headlines that "bait" readers into clicking their link, only to find that the article is all or partly false, satirical, exaggerated, taken out of context, or unverified. Examples are (screenshot) and (screenshot). 

2.  Reporting unverified or misleading information deliberately to create controversy. In these articles, the sources are often not cited, the text is in all caps, improper images and ads are displayed and name calling is used. An example is (screenshot).

3.  Deliberate fake or satirical news intended to mislead or entertain. Some sites will take real news captions and attach false stories. Some sites are designed for satire and entertainment and can be useful to educate yourself about media literacy and reading critically. The Onion, The Babylon Bee, and World News Daily Report publish outlandish fake news for entertainment. 

4.  Even some reputable sources make mistakes or use attention-grabbing headlines. Sometimes, wrong information simply gets through to the public, even when reporters check sources and editors proof content. Statistical information from a reputable source may be exaggerated or misrepresented by other sources. Or, the publisher may give a catchy title that doesn't tell the whole story. An example can be seen from USA Today in November 2016 (screenshot).

Use caution when citing or sharing articles. If a headline or story seems outrageous, take a closer look. Be skeptical of article titles that start with a number and some sensational wording (ex: "10 Actors You Didn't Know were Dead" or "12 Ways to Ruin Your Children"). Remember that misinformation or "fake news" is not specific to a certain political side. Don't assume that fact-checking is unnecessary if you agree with an article. And don't assume that because you disagree with an author or article it must be inaccurate (this is known as confirmation bias). Doing further research through mainstream news sources, the library databases,, and can help you recognize false, incomplete or misleading news stories.

Sources consulted:

Dreid, N. (2016, November 17). Meet the Professor Who's Trying to Help You Steer Clear of Clickbait. Retrieved December 05, 2016, from

Valenza, J. (2016, November 26). Truth, truthiness, triangulation [Web log post]. Retrieved December 5, 2016, from

Zimdars, M. (2016). False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and Satirical. Retrieved December 05, 2016, from

See also: Kessler, Glenn. "The Fact Checker's guide for detecting fake news." Washington Post, WP Company, 22 Nov. 2016,

Kiely, Eugene, and Lori Robertson. “How to Spot Fake News.”,, 19 Dec. 2016,

Reading a Web URL

URL stands for Uniform Resource Locater and is the unique address for a webpage or site. It is also referred to as web address. A website's URL will appear in the URL bar of the browser, as shown in the image below.

Screenshot of student loan PDF

To understand more about URLs, let's take a look at the parts and what they represent in the following address: 

  • http or https stands for HyperText Transfer Protocol. In other words, the type of information being transferred is hypertext
  • Often you will see www, which is optional and represents a page on the World Wide Web
  • mclennan is the secondary domain, usually indicating the organization hosting the content
  • edu is the primary web domain. Other primary domains are .com, .gov, .mil, etc.
  • financial-aid is a subdomain on the mclennan network and represents a department within the organization
  • docs represents a directory on the server
  • direct-loan-basics-students.pdf is the file name and file type for the document on the website; htm or html would be the most common file type for webpages