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Critical Evaluation of Sources: Introduction and Criteria

Criteria and guidelines to evaluate information from ANY location - web pages and print sources.


Evaluating a source can begin even before you have the source in hand.  You can initially appraise a source by first examining the bibliographic citation. A bibliographic citation is a written description of a book, journal article, essay, or some other published material.  Bibliographic citations characteristically have three main components: author, title, and publication information (i.e. date, place, vol. & issue).  These components can help you determine the usefulness of this source for a paper.   Abstracts, if included as part of an index, can also provide useful content description when deciding the usefulness of a source.  There are many ways to evaluate a source.  

From JHU Guide: 

The World Wide Web offers information and data from all over the world. Because so much information is available, and because that information can appear to be fairly “anonymous”, it is necessary to develop skills to evaluate what you find. When you use a research or academic library, the books, journals and other resources have already been evaluated by scholars, publishers and librarians. Every resource you find has been evaluated in one way or another before you ever see it. When you are using the World Wide Web, none of this applies. There are no filters. Because anyone can write a Web page, documents of the widest range of quality, written by authors of the widest range of authority, are available on an even playing field. Excellent resources reside along side the most dubious. The Internet epitomizes the concept of Caveat lector: Let the reader beware.

This guide discusses the criteria by which scholars in most fields evaluate print information, and shows how the same criteria can be used to assess information found on the Internet. Use the tabs on this guide to further explore and consider how to effectively evaluate online information.


Original source (1993) for this Guide was the Cornell Library:  

The Cornell Library current version:

Also the Guide from Berkeley for questions to ask:

Another excellent Guide is at JHU:


Good table on web page from VCU - uses original criteria from Susan Beck:

Another excellent table with criteria from U. of Oregon:

More questions to ask from UCLA (Esther Grassian's original):

And Esther's second one on Web2.0 sources (i.e. social media):

From Widener - What the public Web won't find:

Apply the CRAAP test:   

Kathy Shrock's listing of good resources for evaluation:

Excellent overview video


Clues to Credibility:  Trustworth organization  and Author expertise   BY  purpose or mission statement, clear credentials listed, and current contact information

Use the following criteria:

  • Authority
  • Currency
  • Coverage
  • Objectivity
  • Accuracy

Coverage or scope refers to the extent to which a source explores a topic. Consider time periods, geography or jurisdiction and coverage of related or narrower topics.  Tip: When seeking information about the scope of coverage of a database, look for dates and information about excluded materials. Does the database cover the period of time of interest to you? Does it exclude select articles because of copyright licensing issues?

Authority refers to the expertise or recognized official status of a source. Consider the reputation of the author and publisher. When working with legal or government information, consider whether the source is the official provider of the information.  Tip: Authors recognized as experts amongst their peers are usually cited and reviewed in the literature. If a source claims official status (e.g., the House of Representatives is the official publisher of the U.S. Code), you should be able to verify the claim.

Objectivity is the bias or opinion expressed when a writer interprets or analyzes facts. Consider the use of persuasive language, the source's presentation of other viewpoints, it's reason for providing the information and advertising.  Tip: All writing, except for the dissemination of pure facts, contains a certain amount of bias. Does the source provide a balanced point of view? Does the author want to influence change? Is the advertising influencing the content?

Accuracy describes information that is factually irrefutable and complete. Consider the editing and publishing policy of the source. Is it peer-reviewed? Does it fact-check before publishing?   Tip: You should be able to verify factually correct information. Are there two or more reliable sources that provide the same information?

Currency refers to information that is current at the time of publication. Consider publication, creation and revision dates. Beware of Web site scripting that automatically reflects the current day's date on a page.  Tip: The information provided might have been current at the time it was published. Can you establish the publication date? Does the revision date cover changes in content or aesthetic revisions only?

additional criteria

Consider the following questions when determining whether or not a website is appropriate for use in your research and course work.


1. Scope and Subject Matter

  • What subject is covered?
  • What is the purpose of the site?
  • Is the site intended to be comprehensive or selective?
  • Who is the intended audience? What is the intended age or academic level?
  • How does the site compare with other related sites? With other related print sources?
  • Is the information unique, or is it available in other forms?

2. Authority

  • What are the credentials of the author(s)/organization who produced the site?
  • Is the author/organization well regarded in the field covered by the resource?
  • Is information concerning the author(s)/organization included on the site?
  • Is contact information for the author(s)/organization provided?
  • On which server is the site mounted?
  • Is it reputable? Sponsored?
  • Is there a tilde (~) in the url? This may indicate a personal web directory, thereby reflecting a personal rather than institutional viewpoint.
  • Is there an obvious bias? Is this site designed for promotional purposes?
  • Does the address, specifically the domain, suggest the perspective from which the site was designed and does this suit your purposes? For example, ".edu," ".com," ".gov" respectively imply education, commercial, and government origins.
  • Did you link to the site from another site of which you know and trust the credentials?
  • Has the site been favourably reviewed by a browser or other Internet reviewing agency?
  • Have the contents been refereed?
  • Have the contents been carefully edited?
  • Are there grammar, punctuation, or spelling errors?
  • Is appropriate attribution given where required?

3. Currency and Completeness

  • When was the site created?
  • When was it last updated, and is this done regularly?
  • How current are the links? Do they work?
  • Does the site evolve over time, or would one visit be sufficient?
  • Is post-publishing editing allowed in the case of electronic journals?
  • Is the document complete, or has it also been published in an expanded print version?
  • Are all graphics included in the electronic format?

4. Design

  • Are the resources well organized and logically presented?
  • Are the text and background colour choices contrasting enough for the text to be easily read?
  • Is the background plain enough for the text to be easily read?
  • Are the graphics clear and representative?
  • Are the graphics functional or decorative?
  • Are the graphics too complex and make the page frustratingly slow to load up or to print?
  • Is the page cluttered? Or does it include too much blank space which makes printing costly?
  • If the site is multimedia, consider creativity, quality of the image and sound, and interactivity.
  • Is multimedia appropriate for the site?
  • Is an indication of size provided in kilobytes where a link leads to large volumes of data (text, images, video, or voice)?

5. Ease of Use

  • Is it easy for the intended audience to connect to the site?
  • Is the site user friendly with an effective interface?
  • Is the design of the site linear enough so that the user can follow through and know that they have examined all components?
  • Is there an option for line-mode (text) browser as well as multimedia browser?
  • Is there a requirement for special software and, if so, can the software be accessed or downloaded easily?
  • In the case of compressed files, is it clear how to gain access to the files?
  • Is the site open to anyone? Or do some sections require registration or payment?
  • In what language is the site written?
  • If the site is offered in translation, is the translation accurate?
  • Are the addresses of linking urls provided so that viewers using printed or downloaded versions of the site can still access them?
  • Are special needs users considered in the design? For example, are alternate text descriptions provided for the visually impaired? How will the page function for hearing impaired users?