Answered By: Colin Magee
Last Updated: Aug 10, 2022     Views: 8

Evaluating websites

You can use the same search strategies that you learned when using ProQuest to search the web using Google as well.  Google does a really good job of providing you key information on a topic. 


Google search screen with a search for "Water crisis" and Flint

We'll go to Google and type in "Water crisis" and FLINT, and see what comes up.


Criteria to evaluate websites

There are three things you have to pay attention to when searching using Google.  They are some of the same characteristics that we looked at when we were examining different information using the library.  The first is Authority.  That is, who created the information.  With scholarly journals and books, we know that the author is usually a credentialed expert in the field.  Not always the case with what we find using Google.  The second characteristic is the content of the information itself, and whether it's accurate or not.  It's harder to determine the accuracy of the information on a website, because most websites are self-published.  With library information, most of it is published in books or in print publications.  So the information from the library is usually edited or peer reviewed.  You can rely on a certain level of accuracy with published information.  The third characteristic is the purpose.  What are they trying to accomplish by putting this information on the web?  When searching on the web, this is the one you probably need to pay the most attention to.


Google search results for "water crisis" and Flint, with other questions people asked highlighted.

So let's look at our search results.  First of all, Google does a good job of predicting what you might want to know about a topic.  "What caused the Flint water crisis?"  "What happened with the Flint water crisis?"  These are helpful ways to expand your search. 


Google search results with Wikipedia overview link highlighted on the right.

Sometimes you'll have a Wikipedia overview.  Most instructors don't want you to cite Wikipedia as a source in your paper, because the information is not often edited or fact-checked.  But this gives you some background information at least. 


Google search results with the link to the website "Flint Water Crisis: Everything You Need to Know | NRDC" highlighted

Let's look at some of the results that come up.  Here's an article from an organization called NRDC.  The url ends in ".org" which usually means it's a non-profit organization. 


The website "Flint Water Crisis: Everything You Need to Know" with the About Us link at the top highlighted.

This looks like a pretty good article.  It seems to provide a detailed overview of the Flint crisis.  But pay attention to our criteria.  Let’s look at the authority.  What exactly is NRDC?  Let’s click on “About Us” at the top. 


The "About us" page from the NDRC website

NRDC is the Natural Resources Defense Council.  It’s a group of environmental activists.  While they seem to be doing good work here, the purpose of the information on here seems to be to inform and but also to possibly persuade you to join their cause, or even donate to it. 


A pop up box asking you to subscribe to the NDRC's newsletter shows up in front of the article "Flint Water Crisis: Everything You Need to Know."

In fact, as we’re reading the article, this pop-up wants you to subscribe to their newsletter.  So just be careful you aren't finding information that is too biased. 

Google search results highlighting the section of current news articles under the heading Top Stories

One nice feature about Google is that they link to news articles depending on your search.  So with the Flint crisis, the news is all about the trial right now.  The information in these news articles might not give you a good background of the crisis, since it's focusing on the litigation that's ongoing. 


Google search results with videos highlighted.

Google will also show you videos.  Try and find ones that are from reputable sources.  Like here's one from 60 Minutes, and one from CBS Sunday Morning.  These ones should be pretty good.


Google search results with Ad websites highlighted at the bottom of the search results page.

Websites that you definitely want to stay clear of are the ones with "AD" in front of it.  Somebody paid for these to appear in your search results, which is an indication of bias.


Google search results page highlighting a link to a website from the CDC: "Flint Water Crisis"

Here's an article from the CDC. 


The webpage "Flint Water Crisis" from the CDC website

It's a “.gov” website, so the information on here should be fairly nonbiased and mostly informative.


The Purdue OWL (online writing lab) website for looking up how to do MLA citations

You will also have to consult a citation guide to correctly cite a website in your Works Cited page.  The OWL site from Purdue is a good resource:  This site shows you examples of how to do an MLA citation for a website.


Your turn

So Google can be a useful way to find information.  We all rely on it every day.  Your instructor will let you know when it is acceptable to find information from the web, or if it needs to be information from the library.  The criteria you need to pay attention to are the authority--who created the website; the accuracy--the content of the website; and the purpose of the website.

Now, you'll get a chance to look at a website about the water crisis in Africa.

Related Topics

    Contact Us