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CSM Library
College of Southern Maryland
8730 Mitchell Rd
PO Box 910
La Plata, MD 20646-0910
301-934-7626

Evaluating Web Sites as Reliable Resources

The World Wide Web contains hundreds of thousands of documents. This can make finding what are you are looking for very difficult, especially if you need an authoritative source for research purposes. Use these guidelines to help you determine the validity of the pages you find.

Currency

Does the page have a copyright date?
Is the information up to date? When was the page last updated?
Pages are most reliable when you know when they are updated.

If it is not stated, you can find out this way (directions are for the Firefox browser):

  • On the top of your screen, go to "Tools" on the toolbar
  • Choose "Page Info"
  • Look for the field entitled "Modified:"

Accuracy

Are there spelling, punctuation or grammar mistakes?
Are there a lot of flashy graphics and not much text?
If so, you may want to think twice about using it for your research. Reliable pages should look professional and be error-free.

Authority

Who wrote the web page?
Is it signed by the author or sponsoring institution? A reputable institution will put its name on its page.
If it is signed by a single author, can you find out his/her credentials? Is s/he an expert in your field, or just another "Joe Schmo"? Be wary of pages without this information.

Objectivity

Is there a bias in the language used on this page?
Does it give both sides of a controversial issue?
Does it link to only sites containing the same point of view?

Relevance

Is this the best possible information you can find on your topic? Many times, you can still find more in-depth information from books and articles.

Citing the Internet

You must cite the Internet sources you use just as you do for print sources.  The following resources should prove helpful.

If you use the MLA style of citation:
MLA Style Guide from Capital Community College

If you use the APA style of citation:
APA Style Guide from Capital Community College

In general:
Research and Documentation Online

An excellent resource from Bedford St. Martin's for MLA, APA, Chicago, and CSE (formerly CBE) styles.  Print out a sample paper, or consult guides for each of these styles.