Anyone with the essential equipment and knowledge can create a website.
Search engines such as Google or Yahoo, find and present results based on many criteria that may or may not include the validity of the information presented.
It is important that you evaluate each web resource you intend to use to be sure that it is a reliable and valid source.
To evaluate a website, follow these steps:
Look at the url. Sites which end in .gov are maintained by the government and are usually considered reliable. Sites which end in other domains such as .com or .org or .net need more evaluation.
Is the site up to date? Sometimes sites will have a statement of "last update" but other times you may have to look to see if the information within the site has a date or if it seems current. Health information changes often and it is important that sites be updated regularly. Note that many broken links on a site may indicate inattention regardless of the date supplied.
Who is responsible for posting information on the site, an individual or an organization? What do you know about the person or organization? Quality sites should provide creditials or qualifications for contributors. They should have a process for reviewing and choosing information and be able to provide details about that process.
Why does the site exist? Does it seek to educate or inform, to sell something, to sway you in a particular direction about an issue? This information may sometimes be found through links entitled "About Us". or "Purpose" or "Mission Statement" or it may require looking through the site for clues. Note that sites which exist solely to sell or promote a particular drug, remedy, or therapy may not be totally unbiased about the information they present.
How is information presented on the site? Sites which claim "research indicates" or "studies show" should provide references or citations so that users can review the information for themselves if desired. Those citations should include some quality professional and/or peer-reviewed publications. Some quality sites may also include advertising, but all ads should be clearly labeled as such.
It may take some time to evaluate a website but looking for answers to these questions can help you know if the website is suitable to use as a source for your paper.
The information on this page is adapted from:
Wright M, Grabowsky A. The role of the adult educator in helping learners access and select quality health information on the Internet. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, c2011. p. 79-88. (Hill LH, editor. Adult education for health and wellness. New directions for adult and continuing education; No. 130).