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Literature Review Step by Step

What Tests to Apply When Evaluating Sources

If you cannot access the above video, you can watch it here.

Authority

•Is the author of the information named?
​•What are the author's qualifications and expertise? 
•Who sponsors the website?

•Is the sponsor of the page reputable? How reputable?

•Is there a link to information about the author and/or the sponsor and/or a way to contact them?

•Are there links to any other organization(s) that supplies information to the website?

•If the page includes neither a signature nor indicates a sponsor, is there a way to determine its origin?

Check for a header or footer showing affiliation.
Check the URL. http://www.fbi.gov
Check the domain. .edu, .com, .org, .net
Check for an "About Us" link.

Why is this important?

  • Anyone can publish anything on the web.

  • Qualifications can bolster confidence in the information presented.
  • Authorship and/or sponsorship can be an indication of bias or limited viewpoint.

Currency

  • Is the page dated? 
  • If so, when was the last update? 
  • How current are the links? 
  • Have some expired or moved?

Why is this important?
When dates are not provided, you cannot tell how "stale" the information is and whether newer information exists that's not covered on the website.
Bad links are an indication of a site that might be abandoned or neglected.
Even if a date is provided, it may have various meanings. For example,

  • It may indicate when the material was first written.
  • It may indicate when the material was first placed on the Web.
  • It may indicate when the material was last revised.

Determining Authorship

►Is the document signed?
►Can I get more information on the author by linking from this page to other documents?
►Was there information about the author on the page from which I linked to this one?

If you can answer "Yes" to the second or third question, it's possible that you will have enough information for evaluative purposes, or at least enough information to help you find the author's telephone number or e-mail address so that you may contact him or her with questions.

If you can answer "Yes" to the first question only, you may need to find further information on the author. Start by Googling the name. This process will require some judgement on your part, but if you are quickly lead to a dead end, this should be a red flag.

Who is the Publisher?

Does the page have the following:

  •  A header or footer that shows its affiliation as part of a larger web site.
  •  A watermark or wallpaper that fulfills the same function.
  •  A link at the bottom or top of the page that allows you to go to the home page of the web site where the document lives.
  •  A link that allows you to email the site

When evaluating a website there are several things to take into consideration, one of the first things to look at is the URL (Uniform Resource Locator: a protocol for specifying addresses on the Internet) this can often tell you several things about the website, the creator, the audience, the purpose and sometimes even the country of origin. The URL is the address you type in to get to a web site, for example, https://www.uml.edu/library/ (our library’s address) or https://www.google.se/ (Sweden’s Google search).

A domain name is like a website’s proper name (the part after the www.), businesses and organizations often have a domain name that is their corporate name (for example Microsoft’s domain name is Microsoft.com).  The domain suffix is the end of the domain name (the .com part) and can offer insight into the type of organization the site is linked to.  For example, any commercial enterprise or corporation that has a web site will have a domain suffix of .com, which means it is a commercial entity. Popular domain suffixes include ".com," ".net," ".gov," and ".org," but there are dozens of domain suffixes.  However, since any entity can register domain names with these suffixes, the domain suffix does not always represent the type of website that uses the domain name. For example, many individuals and organizations register ".com" domain names for non-commercial purposes, since the ".com" domain is the most recognized.

The domain suffix might also give you a clue about the geographic origin of a web site, each country also has a unique domain suffix that is meant to be used for websites within the country. For example, Brazilian websites may use the ".br" domain suffix, Chinese websites may use the ".cn" suffix, and Australian websites may use the ".au" suffix. These country-based TLDs, sometimes referred to as "country codes," are also used to specify different versions of an international website. For example, the German home page for Google is "www.google.de" instead of "www.google.com."

http://agriculture.sc.gov/divisions/agency-services/state-farmers-markets/

From the web address above, you can tell it is a Government site (.gov) and it is for the state of South Carolina (.sc) the domain name is for the Department of Agriculture. The page is for a listing of state farmers markets, you can see the path to the filename after each backslash (/).

 

Recognizing a Personal Website

A personal web page is one published by an individual who may or may not be affiliated with a larger institution. Although the URL address of the page may have a variety of endings (e.g. .com, .edu, etc.), a tilde (~) is frequently embedded somewhere in the URL

Consider the following:

  • Is it clear what individual is responsible for the contents of the page?
  • Does the individual responsible for the page indicate his or her qualifications for writing on this topic?
  • Is there a way of verifying the legitimacy of this individual? (Because it is difficult to verify the legitimacy of an individual, personal home pages may be a useful source for personal opinion but use extreme caution when using them as a source for factual information.)