Most information on the Internet does not go through a peer review process, which is commonly found in many academic journals and books. It's important for the reader to train a critical eye when appraising information on the Web and below are some questions to help guide you through this process.
- Is the information current and timely?
- Does the document include the date(s) at which the information was gathered (e.g., US Census data)?
- Does the document refer to clearly dated information (e.g., "Based on 1990 US Census data.")?
- Does the document include information on the regularity of updates (if there is a need to update or add data)?
- Does the document include a date of copyright?
- Is the information relevant to your needs and/or research question?
- Who is the intended audience (patient, clinician, student, etc)?
- Is the information at an appropriate level, academically?
Authority & Authorship
- Who is responsible for the Web site?
- Who pays for the Web site?
- Is there any contact information?
- Is there biographical information?
- What are the author's or publishing body's credentials? If it's presenting medical information, people with excellent professional and scientific qualifications should review the material before it's posted.
- On health sites, does the site describe the evidence (such as articles in medical journals) that the materials is based on? Opinions and advice should be set apart from information that is "evidence-based" (that is, based on research results).
- Is the information presented on the site accurate? Can the details be verified? If it is a research document, does it include the data that was gathered and an explanation of the research method(s) used to gather and interpret it?
- Does the document rely on other sources that are listed in a bibliography or include links to the documents themselves?
- Does the document name individuals and/or sources that provided non-published data used in the preparation of the study?
- Can the background information that was used be verified for accuracy?
- What is the purpose of the site?
- How is the information reviewed before it's posted on the Web site?
- Information is rarely neutral; can you detect the bias or the point of view?
- Note the URL of the document; does this document reside on the Web server of an organization that has a clear stake in the issue at hand?
- If you are looking at a corporate Web site, assume that the information on the corporation will present it in the most positive light.
- If you are looking at products produced and sold by that corporation, remember: you are looking at an advertisement.
- If you are reading about a name brand drug at the Web site of another drug company, you are reading the opposition.
- Does this document reside on the Web server of an organization that has a political or philosophical agenda?
- If you are looking for scientific information on human genetics, would you trust a political organization to provide it?
- Never assume that extremist points of view are always easy to detect. Some sites promoting these views may look educational.