Research skills

Internet searches

Finding the good websites

Search engines often rank their results according to how closely they relate to your search terms. However, it is possible that sites can be manipulated to ensure they rank highly for certain searches to get them to the top of the list.

Therefore, you must evaluate the quality of a website for yourself. You must ensure it is reliable, accurate and authoritative – that it's a good quality source.

Quality: issues to consider

Content

  • Is your subject covered in an acceptable amount of detail?
  • Is it aimed at a suitable audience level for your needs - it’s not simplified or aimed at an expert?
  • Is it well-written and clear?

Authority

  • Who wrote the source?  Are they qualified to write about this subject?
  • Who published the source and are they a reputable publisher?

It can be difficult to determine the authority of a website – the author may not be given or there may be little information about their background and qualifications.

As anyone can publish on the web, you may not be able to rely on there being a formal publishing procedure which checks for quality and accuracy before publication. Therefore, be careful about accepting any source of information where you are unsure of its origin.

You could try looking at any ‘About us’ links for information about the producer of the website or check the url to see if it gives any clues. For example, 'edu' or 'ac.uk' suggest the source originates from a university.

Objectivity

  • Is the source biased in favour of a particular viewpoint?
  • Does it offer a balanced overview of a topic?

Check the information to ensure you are not getting a partial account of a topic. You may want to cross reference it with other sources to get a complete picture.

Accuracy

  • Is the information provided accurate?
  • Are supporting facts and figures given to substantiate any arguments or claims?

Cross referencing with other sources should help you evaluate accuracy.

Currency

  • Is the information up to date?
  • Is this an important consideration for your subject?

Check for a date of creation for the site and for any date that it was last revised – this should help to indicate the currency of the source.

Websites are not always permanent – you may find that a website you have used is removed. This means others may not be able to refer to your source and this may impact on its credibility.

Usability

  • Is the website easy to navigate and use?

A well designed and presented website makes it easier to find the information you need – but you still need to evaluate the quality of that information!