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How to Evaluate Online Information

Never mind the quality… feel the width! With so much information available to us online, it’s important we choose wisely.

Never mind the quality… feel the width! With so much information available to us online, it’s important we choose wisely.

While most internet users understand that not all information they find online is truthful, 10% say they don’t think about whether the factual information they find online is truthful and close to one in five social media users wouldn’t make any checks on the trustworthiness of a news article on social media. (Ofcom, 2019, pp. 18-9).

Choose Your Source Wisely

In the example, in the video above, I am being discerning about the source of medical information. I’m not just going to search Google and click on the first link I get. Being based in the UK, I have chosen to find help from the National Health Service’s website NHS Choices, on the principle that it’s the public health services operator in the UK and politically accountable to government – details that ought to be some indication of reliability.

An evaluation cycle considering authority, audience, purpose, quality, content, currency, accuracy, and sustainability

Evaluating Online Information

The above diagram represents an accepted framework for evaluating information.

  • Authority Who’s doing the writing? Are they an expert in their field? Are they named at all?
  • Audience Who are they writing to? Experts? The general public?
  • Purpose Why are they writing? For the advancement of knowledge? For tenure? For money? For commercial interests?
  • Quality Where are they writing? Is it a credible source? Is it copy-edited and peer-reviewed? Is it tonally questionable: an angry rant in ALL CAPITALS or a childish font?
  • Content What are they writing? Is it supported by figures and citations? Is it full of adverts?
  • Currency When are they writing? Is it up to date or has it been superseded by new findings? Are all the links broken?
  • Accuracy Does what they’re writing stack up? Do the citations and data support what is being said?
  • Suitability Is what they’re writing actually appropriate for your needs?

We can simplify this model further, asking Who? What? When? Where? How? Why? to think about information before we deem it to be authoritative or factual. Information doesn’t have to pass all criteria to be relevant; but, when taken cumulatively, the criteria can serve as a guide to things which might cause us question.

Online Evaluation Techniques

If you’re interested in finding out more about evaluation techniques and being critical, take a look at the information on the University of York’s Being Critical Skills Guides.

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