How to Evaluate the Information on a WWW site?
Written by: Mary Ellen Buning, PhD, OTR/L, ATP
Here are some simple, common sense guidelines to help you find and evaluate the quality of information you find on the Internet:
Is the site published by a credible source?
There are no rules governing the accuracy or appropriateness of information posted on the web so it is a classic situation of the "buyer beware!" Sites hosted by major universities, research hospitals and government agencies and projects are generally reliable. However, be sure to check to see if a date is associated with the information.
Remember, too, that sites published by healthcare and rehabilitation product manufacturers can contain valuable information, but will clearly have a bias in favor of their products. Sites posted by individuals with disabilities who are sharing their personal rehabilitation-related experiences will often contain helpful information--but they are often quite biased and subjective. Any facts about diagnosis, products or recommendations for action should be taken for what they are--opinion!
Be wary of sites that do not state anything about their sources of information. Considering the copyright laws that cover all forms of communication today it is important for authors to report or cite their source of information. If the source is vague, the information may be unreliable.
How old is the information?
Check when was the information posted to the Internet or when was it last updated. A conscientious website will post the date on each page and change the date each time the page is updated. If the site does not have a date at the bottom of each web page then you have no way of knowing how current the information is that you are reading. Outdated information can linger on the web for many years.
Who is the site written for?
Who is in the audience? Websites written for medical or rehabilitation professionals may be confusing or alarming for the average lay person. On the other hand, websites written for lay persons may not include the detailed information a doctor is looking for in order to make a clinical decision. Choose a site that is written for your needs or use additional resources to correctly interpret the information that you find on a technical or specialist-oriented website.
Who wrote the information?
Many websites do not include this information, yet, we would hesitate to quote a research article or take an action based on written recommendations written by "anonymous." Sites sponsored by organizations and projects often have staff assigned to write, edit and update web page content. Often these staff members do not use a "byline" when they write web content. A good website will always make it easy for you to get in touch with them and ask them any questions you need to ask about the content of a web page.
Is the site easy to use?
Can you search the site for specific information? Does it offer you a site map? Another good quality in a website is its interest in helping you know all sides to the story. So... does it point you to other reliable sources?
There are many valuable health and rehabilitation-related sites and so you can afford to be choosy. When you find a site that is easy to use and understand, go back to it often often.
On a related note, it makes me wonder when I see a website that is written to include people with disabilities that does not use the Web Accessiblity Initiative guidelines to make a web page accessible for all people with disabilities. What does that do to their credibility?
Other links about WWW Evaluation:
Last Updated: 3-2-2006