Detect the credibility of a website like a pro 😎
Evaluating the trustworthiness of online content is getting trickier. From web articles with questionable claims to manipulated videos (like deepfake 😱), just about anything can be created by anyone and published on the internet with just one click.
If you’re a college student writing a research paper worth a huge chunk of your final grade, it’s essential that you lift info from reliable sources.
So, how can you achieve this when the internet is overflowing with misinformation? Use these 8 tips to evaluate a website’s credibility, including major red flags to look out for. 🚩
Some websites mimic legitimate ones by swapping certain letters or adding characters that can be easily ignored or mistaken for another in the URL. For example, “Faceb00k.com” looks weird and shady compared to the legitimate “Facebook.com,” right? 🤔
Always double-check the URL in the address bar to be sure that you’re on the right website, especially if you’ve clicked on a hyperlink from a different source.
Typically trustworthy websites carry these domains:
Meanwhile, these other types of domains may carry legitimate information but must be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism:
Online actors with malicious intent tend to haphazardly build websites to get cash or obtain your sensitive information quickly, leaving little time for proofreading and checking their sites for coherence.
Sometimes, even well-meaning bloggers miss proper spelling and grammar and present claims filled with errors. Though they may have no intention to deceive, their work isn’t always proofread and verified by the pros in an industry, which is a sign that it may not be the best source to draw information from.
A few errors here and there can be forgiven, but if the grammar and spelling mistakes stick out like a sore thumb, verify the site you’ve landed on ASAP using the other tips and tricks in this article.
On the other hand, polished websites with correct spelling and grammar have editors and proofreaders ensuring that the information they publish is correct and accurate because it’s greatly tied to their reputation.
Professional individuals and organizations invest time, money, and effort into producing high-quality online content that they want people to engage with.
After all, a poorly made piece of work reflects its maker. Tell-tale signs of a potentially unreputable or amateur website include an outdated website design, unreadable font, and links to inaccessible or irrelevant web pages.
Other giveaways are when a website is cluttered with shady pop-up ads or low-quality images that aren’t relevant to the written content, and if it’s not easily accessible on mobile.
Reputable websites go to great lengths in designing an eye-catching page with a smooth and effective user experience. This means you should be easily able to find and navigate to the sections you need.
The user interface should also be easy on the eyes — no crazy colors, irrelevant icons, or anything that seems out of place.
In other words, if a website is visually unappealing and awkward or difficult to use, it usually is not a dependable source.
With tons of free and easy-to-use website builders and publication platforms, the internet is full of all different types of content created for various reasons. As such, it’s helpful to remember that all this content is published with an agenda, which could be good or bad. 👀
There’s a long list of different types of websites, but the most common ones you will come across in your research are:
TIP: While Wikipedia alone is not a reliable source for your essay (because anyone can edit its entries at any time), it’s a great place to start your research journey. This website can give a broad overview of your research topic and can link you to more authoritative websites through the list of sources at the bottom of the page.
So, how can you check if a webpage is right for your essay? Read the website’s “About” page, and consider the website name and the types of content it publishes.
For example: Is it purely informational? If it’s a mix between providing information and selling something, the US Federal Trade Commission requires the author to disclose that the creator is earning money if you buy from their sponsored content. This is something to look out for as it means the website’s primary agenda is to sell, not provide accurate information.
You can also check its intended audience through the nature and depth of the topic being discussed, word choice, and tone. As such, be on the lookout for absolutes such as “never,” “always,” or “everyone.”
You can also do this by asking yourself:
You should know: some website articles may also be misinformed; information with incomplete or zero sources, regardless of intent. This is quite common on social media.
On the other hand, other sites may be disinformed; information with the deliberate intent to deceive, such as propaganda.
To learn how to spot the difference between the two, check out the next two items on this list!
Would you take medical advice from a random stranger you met at a campus event? If they happened to prove they were a licensed doctor, perhaps you would… but what if they weren’t? It’s the same principle when it comes to taking information from a website.
Knowing who is giving you information, specifically who runs the website you are reading, will tell you a lot about whether it’s legit or not. 👏
If a website and its content were produced by an organization, dig into their background and mission to see a clearer picture of what makes them qualified to talk about this topic. In your analysis, consider:
It’s vital to know if the article you’re reading was produced by a certified field practitioner or a random individual with no related background sharing their personal experience.
Of course, some personal stories could enrich your understanding of a complex topic. But make sure to take them with a grain of salt, especially if it’s about specialized topics that could have life-changing effects on anyone reading your paper, such as health and finance.
Another way you can find out more about the authority of a website’s creator is through their “About Us” page. Their social media accounts can also provide a wealth of information.
Scam websites typically don’t make it easy to find this information, so that’s another red flag to keep an eye out for.
When in doubt, stick to renowned universities and academic publications such as online journals. Their quality of work is better than the small or unknown establishments because they have checks in place, such as the peer-review process when it comes to online journals, to ensure they publish quality and accurate work.
TIP: The most credible sources are academic papers, scientific journals, books from field practitioners, and articles from journalists published by established news agencies because they are backed up by reliable evidence and meticulous editing or peer review.
You can check out digital libraries housing primary and academic sources, too. 💡
Imagine being taught an unfamiliar claim by your professor that piques your interest, but when you asked for them to explain it in further detail, you don’t get a logical answer. 🥴
Though your professor may be an authority figure in your college life, it’s still important to know how and why something is presented as a fact by turning to other experts for additional insight.
In the same way, when reading a web article, check if certain claims are backed by reputable sources by clicking on the hyperlinks. This should lead you to a relevant article from a credible and timely source.
Other websites list the sources at the bottom portion of the page. These might be available as footnotes, in-text citations, or a bibliography or reference list.
However, if there are absolutely no sources, that’s a red flag! 🚩 Lifting information from unverified or plagiarized work can greatly affect your paper’s accuracy, so always take proper caution.
If all the sources are in place, you can then check if the information is coherently woven together. It helps if you’re eagle-eyed about common fallacies, like hasty generalizations and circular arguments, so you can better assess the accuracy of a website and its claims.
It’s also handy to know how to evaluate fake news by assessing the headline (for example, is it clickbait?) and checking if it’s from a well-known source that can be reached, among other ways of verification.
You may be wondering, why is the date of an online article important? After all, it’s the content you’re looking at when it comes to your research paper. But, timeliness is vital because it’s possible that the information you are reading is no longer relevant!
This is especially true in fields such as science or history, with new research coming to light constantly that changes how we think of the world around us. Just look at the case of Pluto, which was re-classified as a dwarf planet in 2006, or the debunking of the myth that Viking warriors wore huge horned helmets.
As such, you should always check the publication date of an article. Generally, sources are still valid from the last five years or earlier. However, in fast-paced fields like physical science or tech security, it’s best to stick to the most recent research you can find.
You can also check when a website was last updated which is usually listed at the bottom of each webpage. When a website is up-to-date, it means that its creators are constantly checking and updating their publications to ensure their relevance.
Ever heard of the expression, “One of these things is not like the other”? While it came from Sesame Street, it can still be a helpful adage to remember when it comes to considering a website’s credibility as you look for the difference among a similar set of sources.
For example, if you have five sources where only one is singing praises about one perspective of a topic and vilifying or outright ignoring the other sides to it, then that’s a sign that this one is probably not a good source. 😬
At the same time, you must also keep your essay balanced by checking counterarguments and alternative perspectives through other credible websites. Then, organize the bulk of your research by listing down the basic info and main points per website in a separate document. From this, you can form your well-rounded conclusion backed by credible sources. 👊
TIP: While it’s dandy settling on a web article matching precisely what you’re looking for, you may be subject to confirmation bias, or believing that a source is correct (even when it could be false) because it confirms your existing beliefs. Be cautious!
In a rush? Use these credibility-checking methods:
You could do the famous CRAAP Test:
If it doesn’t pass this test, then it’s probably crap! 💩
When you’re looking at an article, do the age-old basic test of looking for the right information with the 5Ws and 1H:
Or you could also do a SMART check:
With fake news popping up everywhere, being able to analyze the information in front of you and determine if it is legit is a vital life skill.
As a college student, honing your critical thinking as a personal practice definitely reaps rewards as you build your own authority, which is invaluable as you enter your chosen career.
Credibility is a big deal because people are more likely to trust you when you make yourself known as dependable by providing helpful and correct information. And when you gain people’s trust, you have the power to influence more.
Plus, you’ll be well-equipped against fear-mongering or crazy trends in an ever-changing world. 😉
Finding accurate information online comes down to this: never take anything at face value.
Now you know how to spot credible sources from a mile away, don’t forget to properly cite them in your work. And with that, you’re ready to ace that paper! 💯
You can tell if a website is credible in three steps:
Website credibility is important for readers to find accurate, timely, and evidence-backed information in helping them produce valuable work, research papers, or college essays.
Websites that end their domain name with “.gov” (government) and “.edu” (educational institution) are examples of the most credible websites because they have systems in place to maintain a trustworthy reputation.
A source is considered credible if the information is presented in a timely and objective manner supported by reliable evidence you can access. Also, its publisher must have a relevant background or set of credentials.
The three factors that build credibility are…
The five factors that make a source credible are…
Generally, sources are still valid from the last five years of their publication. However, it’s better to find something more recent, especially if you’re writing about a fast-paced field with ongoing developments, like health or tech security.
The College Post is part of Globe Post Media, a US digital news organization publishing the world’s best targeted news sites.
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Detect the credibility of a website like a pro 😎