Authority is concerned with how knowledgeable an author is on the particular subject they are writing about. Some questions to ask to determine whether your source is authoritative are:
Look at the source to see if it tells you anything about the author's credentials. Much of this information should be listed or a contact number supplied.
Many Internet sources do not give the identity or credentials of the author or producer. These Web sites may have questionable reliability.
Timeliness is concerned with how timely a source is in relation to your topic. For some topics, such as medicine, science, business, and technology the most current information will be best. For some topics, such as historical topics, finding information published around the time of the historical event would be best. Ask yourself:
An older site may no longer be maintained and contain dated information and bad links.
Documentation is concerned with how traceable a source's information is. Can you find the origin of the information presented in your source? Ask yourself:
In many publications, adequate documentation is not provided. The popular press rarely provides complete references where one could find further information. Internet sites may be even more guilty of this. If your source has no listed sources of its own, it may be a sign that the information is made up or incorrect.
Purpose & Audience are concerned with matching people to the right information for them. Most writing is initially aimed at a particular audience or has a purpose. The purpose and intended audience may not be explicitly stated. You as the reader may have to infer what the purpose and intended audience are. Ask yourself:
It is a good idea to consider these questions when evaluating a resources for purpose and audience. Just because a website is aimed at consumers doesn't mean it can't be used as a source in your research paper. You just need to consider that fact when deciding what appropriate role, if any, it can play in your research.
How can I find out?
Determine whether the Web site is produced by an organization and if so, the purpose or mission of that organization.
You can usually determine by careful reading if the purpose is to sell a product or promote a particular point of view.
Scholarly publications, even those published on the Web, are typically peer reviewed. Peer review is a process where scholarly articles are reviewed by other experts before they are published in a journal. The process is rigorous. Most popular publications are not peer reviewed.
Many Internet sources are not reviewed before being posted; however, most government, educational, and organizational sites have some sort of review process. If no review process is stated or evident, assume there is none. Journals, both online and print, almost always state their review process.
Suitability is concerned with being the right information for your needs. To determine whether a source is suitable, ask yourself:
Read the source. Does the information have a place within your topic and organizational outline? Assess the topic and the audience that it is aimed at to make sure the purpose and audience are appropriate.