Citing from Web Sources

How to evaluate data from non-academic sources online?

When it comes to data, patents, research reports, questionnaires and reviews - we can always count on the known and reliable databases and other academic sources. However, we can also cite from non-academic sources if we make sure that the information and data is accurate and reliable.

When relying on online information and data from non-academic sources, it is very important to make sure that the details are current, accurate and accountable.
Below are a few important questions to ask:

  1. Who are the writers?
    • Check webpages such as “About Us”, “The Company” “Information”, “Background”, “Biography”, “Mission” etc.
      Then find out who the writers are (either the name of the organization, or specific people).
    • Do a background check to make sure that the writers are accountable: you can look for them on social media networks such as LinkedIn and Facebook.
      You can also perform a simple search on Google and other sources (especially if it is a company) to find out more details.
  2. Is the website address legit and updated?
    • The website address has to be accurate and in sync with the person or organization that identifies with it
      (for example: paypal.com will always include the company’s name and the ending .com, and will always identify with PayPal Pte. Ltd.‎)
    • Useful tools for checking the accuracy of the address are tools such as https://www.alexa.com/siteinfo or https://archive.org/web/
  3. Are the links well organized and updated?
    • When it comes to links on the webpages, are they well organized within the platform?
      Do they relate to the main features and purposes of the website?
    • If there are any links to other websites (outsources), all of these other sources have to be reliable and confirmed.
  4. Is the content well organized, clear, and coherent?
    • Reliable web sources will always display organized and neat content,
      with thought-through navigation and search tools, so no information is partial, missing or vague.
  5. How detailed is the data or information that this website provides?
    • Can you find other sources that reflect this content with matching details?
  6. Relevancy: does the website has a “recently updated” date that is clearly visible?
    • It is important to make sure that the website and the data within it are up to date.
      Some websites will show today’s date by default, using html code and other settings. To make sure that date is 100% accurate, change the date settings on your personal computer and refresh the web page. If the website is using code, the date will match the settings on your computer (which means that this is a website you will want to avoid citing from).

April 2021 \ Issue #6 \ Writing, editing and graphic design: Reference & Instruction Team
Translated from Hebrew by Karen D.Johnson, Elyachar Central Library

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