Guidelines for a critical review of data on the internet
1 May 2021
Everyone looks up information on the web, from business-related questions to studies and personal questions. And when we find the information… received answers may include professional content the search engine found relevant, but also promoted content, either organically promoted or sponsored, by various sources. Every question will receive multiple (sometimes many) answers and it is up to us to assess their quality and credibility:
Was the information published by a certified source? Is said source objective or biased? is its high quality or a risky and partial citing of anonymous sources? It is recommended and vital to think critically when reviewing the received answers.
Here are a few tips we recommend implementing:
The information must be relevant, up to date and reliable.
Check who stands behind the content
Check whether it is dated.
Compare it to other sources.
Assess the quality of the content’s writing and presentation.
What and how?
Ask who is the organization/author.
Review other content by this author.
Check if he/she is an experienced authority on this subject? Are they a business, a private author, or a government channel?
Who is the database/website intended for?
Search the document for information on the writer and the ‘about’ section for information on the website.
Review the language and use of professional terms- is the content targeted at the general public or a professional, academic, or other audience?
Search the homepage for a clear definition of the website and database’s purpose.
Review the URL address. Formal databases, with a public or government indication are more reliable than private databases. ‘.edu’ for educational institutions, ‘.gov’ for government institutions, ‘.org’ for organizations or associations, ‘.muni’ for municipalities, ‘.com’ for commercial websites, ‘.info’ for general information and ‘.net’ for private or other websites.
When was the data fist published? When was it last updated?
is the website/database updated regularly?
what is the data’s publishing date? When was it last updated?
Was the website/ database updated in this past year?
Are any sources through which the data can be verified cited?
Is the website funded or supported by a party of commercial or other interest?
Do the links refer to updated and relevant information?
Search for an agenda: do the displayed documents represent a particular point of view culturally, socially, or politically?
Crosscheck the information with other websites and databases.
Check for ads/partners/sponsors.
Assess the article’s quality.
Assess the website/database’s content and its organization method.
Is the information comprehensive and relevant or partial (a collection of quotes)?
Is the content written clearly and professionally, displayed in an accessible and organized fashion?
Is the website’s navigation clear, concise and simple?
Are writers’ copyrights retained?
Are there separate URL addresses for each document to simplify linking and data referencing?
In conclusion, check:
The database: what are its goals, who is behind it, and how is its data made possible.
The authors: who are the writers, what else have they published, are they reliable.
Updates: is the information up to date, how frequently is the database’s content updated
Supporting content: are there links to additional sources, do they support the published data.