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Toolkit

Internet Research Skills

Evaluating Internet Sources: A Guide for Learners (Ages 16 and Up)

To say that content on the Web varies in quality is an understatement. The type of content most useful to you, the learner, depends on what you are using it for and what your instructors expect of you. There are some simple rules, though, which will help you separate the truly good from the average and -- more insidiously -- the apparently good.

What is Useful on the Web?

The Web can be a very useful research tool, providing written information, images, sound recordings, video, and much more. When using the Web this way, though, try to judge sites on their content -- not on the animation or graphics they might use.

Following these simple guidelines will make it easier to produce high-quality reports and essays based on good information.

Is the information reliable?

There are a few things you have to think about when considering this.

  • Bias. Why was the site created? Who created it? Was it someone neutral, or was it someone who wanted to send a specific message?
  • Authority. Is the writer qualified to speak on the subject? Information posted on the Web is not reviewed the same way printed material usually is. Good sources are:
    • museum, national library, and archives sites;
    • government sites;
    • non-profit cultural organizations like Historica, the CBC, and the Canadian Institute of Historical Microreproductions (operates Early Canadiana Online);
    • major, well-known information sources like Britannica.com, Encarta.com, and Merriam-Webster Online.
  • Primary source. Primary sources are the most valuable Web resources of all: they let you to go to the original material and interpret it yourself. All instructors are impressed by this. Some sources of primary materials are Early Canadiana Online: www.canadiana.org/, and the Library and Archives Canada sites The Virtual Gramophone and Images Canada.

Does the site have enough information?

Does the site contain a lot of information, or simply a short description? For a longer essay or report, in-depth information is more useful. And no matter how easy it may seem, you should avoid using material created for young learners in the primary grades.

Is the site clear and easy to use?

Be careful of sites that take a long time to load. This can waste valuable time. Also, check if you can print the material easily. When you find a good site, be sure to bookmark it on your browser so you can return to it easily later.

Is there advertising?

Be careful of sites with too much advertising, especially if you think that the site has been created to attract you to a business. They are less likely to be reliable. This does not include things like search engines.

Glossary

Bookmark: In this case, to save the URL of a website on a Web browser. Called "Favorites" on Internet Explorer.

URL: Abbreviation of Uniform Resource Locator, the address you see at the top of your Web page.


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