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Physics & Astronomy

Critically Evaluating Websites

Determining the credibility of something you find on the web is not straightforward.  You'll want to look both at the website itself and the author of the piece you're reading.  But the appropriateness will also depend on the topic and on the argument that you're making. 

A few things to think about as you're evaluating something on the web:

  1. How would you characterize the page or article that you're reading?
    For example:
    • Review of current literature on a topic
    • Statistics
    • Opinion piece
    • Policy recommendation

  2. Who is the author of the page or article you are reading?
    • Can you find other pieces that they've written?

  3. How would you characterize the website that is hosting the page you're reading?
    For example:
    • Nonprofit or nongovernmental agency website
    • Government website
    • News site
    • other type of site

  4. Who is responsible for the website? 
    • What is their relationship to the author of the piece you are reading?
    • What else does the website publish?
    • What is the mission of the website?

  5. What is the date of the posting?

  6. Who is the intended audience of the site?

  7. What relevance does the site have for your topic?

  8. Does the post use or present specific evidence?
    • Is there a citation for the evidence, or enough information to find the original source of that evidence?
    • Where is that evidence from?
    • If appropriate, trace the evidence back its origin.  Is the page using that evidence accurately and responsibly?

Is this page credible?

Determining the credibility of a site is a nuanced decision that depends not just on the site's authorship, but also on the topic and the argument that you're making. A site that is credible in one area may not be credible in another. Here are a few things to think about:

  • Do I know who is publishing this site?
  • What is their interest in the topic and in the information they're providing?
  • Does the author cite where their information is coming from?
  • Do other organizations or researchers use their information?
  • What do other researchers or organizations say about the site? 
  • Consider the published conversation you are participating in - do other people refer to this author or this publisher or site? If so, do they explain or contextualize their use?
  • Does the information seem to match what other organizations and researchers are saying?


The Web holds a wide variety of scientific information and misinformation, ranging from popular press coverage to scholarly communications to advertisements to science buff sites. Be careful when using information from web sites, it is changed often which makes it hard to cite it in a paper. If you can find the information in print, it is preferable to use that.

Get Started: Google

There is a lot of good information out on the web, the trick is to find it amongst everything else out there.


Depending on your topic, choosing the right keywords can be extremely important to making sure you get relevant results:

  • Think about the terms that authors might use in writing about your topic.
  • Pay attention to the results you're getting and think about what terms seem to be working, and which ones aren't
  • Use those in future searches on Google and in other places.

Narrowing your search

  • You can narrow your search to only results from a specific domain or type of domain by adding the search operator "site:" to your search.
    • "" narrows to websites from US educational institutions.
    • "" will narrow to UK educational institutions. 
    • "" will narrow to US government sites.
  • On the search results page, you can narrow your search to particular types of sources and to sites published during a certain time.  You can also choose to search on your exact words instead of the Google's default of searching for similar words.

Using what you find:

  • Use existing webpages, articles, and books about the topic to find related words and concepts
  • Found articles but can't get to the full text? Head over to the Articles tab!


Search Google



Other Places to Search