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Last Updated: Sep 14, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

Evaluating Internet Resources Print Page

Using World Wide Web Resources

Unlike similar information found in newspapers, periodicals, or television broadcasts, information available on the Internet is not regulated for quality or accuracy.  Therefore, it is particularly important for the individual Internet user to evaluate the resource or information.  Keep in mind that almost anyone can publish anything they wish on the Web.  It is often difficult to determine the authorship of Web sources.  Even if the author is listed, he or she may not always represent him or herself honestly, or he or she may represent opinions as fact.  The responsibility is on the user to evaluate resources effectively.


Primary Sources

From University of Maryland

Primary sources


Primary sources are original materials. They are from the time period involved and have not been filtered through interpretation or evaluation. Primary sources are original materials on which other research is based. They are usually the first formal appearance of results in physical, print or electronic format. They present original thinking, report a discovery, or share new information.

Note: The definition of a primary source may vary depending upon the discipline or context.

Examples include:

Artifacts (e.g. coins, plant specimens, fossils, furniture, tools, clothing, all from the time under study);

Audio recordings (e.g. radio programs)


Internet communications on email, listservs;

Interviews (e.g., oral histories, telephone, e-mail);

Journal articles published in peer-reviewed publications;


Newspaper articles written at the time;

Original Documents (i.e. birth certificate, will, marriage license, trial transcript);



Proceedings of Meetings, conferences and symposia;

Records of organizations, government agencies (e.g. annual report, treaty, constitution, government document);


Survey Research (e.g., market surveys, public opinion polls);

Video recordings (e.g. television programs);

Works of art, architecture, literature, and music (e.g., paintings, sculptures, musical scores, buildings, novels, poems).  Web site.


Secondary sources




Secondary sources are less easily defined than primary sources. Generally, they are accounts written after the fact with the benefit of hindsight. They are interpretations and evaluations of primary sources. Secondary sources are not evidence, but rather commentary on and discussion of evidence. However, what some define as a secondary source, others define as a tertiary source. Context is everything.


Note: The definition of a secondary source may vary depending upon the discipline or context.


Examples include:


Bibliographies (also considered tertiary);

Biographical works;

Commentaries, criticisms;

Dictionaries, Encyclopedias (also considered tertiary);


Journal articles (depending on the disciple can be primary);

Magazine and newspaper articles (this distinction varies by discipline);

Monographs, other than fiction and autobiography;

Textbooks (also considered tertiary);

Web site (also considered primary).


Ask yourself these questions before using resources from the World Wide Web:


  • Is the name of the author/creator on the page? 
  •   Are his/her credentials listed?  (occupation, years of experience, position or education)
  •   Is the author qualified to write on the given topic?
  •   What does the domain name/URL reveal about the source of the information, if anything?  As a rule, .gov and .edu sites are reliable. 


Knowing the motive behind the Web site's creation can help you judge its content.  What does the site attempt to do?  If not stated, what do you think is the purpose of the site?  Is the purpose to:

  •   Inform or Teach?
  •   Explain or Enlighten?
  •   Persuade?


  •   Is the information covered fact or opinion?
  •   Is the author's point of view objective and impartial?
  •   Does the author's affiliation with an institution or organization appear to bias the information?
  •   Does the content of the page have the official approval of the institution, organization, or company?


  •   Are the sources for factual information clearly listed so that the information can be verified?
  •   Can you verify any of the information in independent sources or from your own knowledge?

Reliability and Credibility

  • Does the information appear to be valid and well-researched, or is it unsupported by evidence? 
  •  What institution (organization, government, university, etc. supports this information?


  •   If the information is of a current nature, is it kept up-to-date?
  •   Is there an indication of when the site was last updated?



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