Méthodologie de l'Histoire du Québec / Quebec History Methodology
Evaluating a Website
Department of Social Science and Commerce,
Increasingly, for students, to "do research" means to access the internet and tap into the phenomenal amount of documentation that is stored within it. However, the ubiquity of the web, the ease of access, and the vastness of the material available make it imperative to approach the resource with the utmost of caution. Clearly, it is likely that material exists on the web that is both reliable and useful for the study of a vast number of subjects. Yet, to access this material is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. For even a casual observer, it is evident that for every true jewel on the web there exists much "fool's gold"! How can one separate the wheat from the shaft?
Evaluating a website in order to determine its scholarship is essential. It should follow a process, and apply criteria, similar to those explained for literature in print in How to recognize a scholarly source? Thus, in looking at a webpage, purpose, authorship and "packaging" must be carefully examined. However, these criteria require adaptation for the web. This question has been well explored by a number of professional librarians who have given us the benefit of their experience and published several pages to guide the researchers in evaluating the web.
In practice, to determine the scholarship of a website, you should be able to clearly identify the people associated with the site (their academic credentials, and how they can be reached), the purpose of the site (its mission, goals, its association with a specific organization, whether the site is for profit or not, whether or not it receives financial support), and the extent to which it receives the approval of peers (to establish the "authority" of a web site). The latter should be determined by the extent to which it is repertoried by academic institutions. For an example of the type of information to look for, and which ought to be provided by scholarly sites, examine carefully the page titled About this Site that is found at the Quebec History web site.
To further evaluate the scholarship of a website, examine some of the webpages listed below and apply the criteria that they suggest.
© 2006 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College