Comprehensive Website Credibility Checklist for Students

This website credibility checklist for students should be relied upon when writing academic assignments. The quality of references used is often a key factor affecting assignment grade. Hence, you need to pay close attention to the trustworthiness of the websites which you reference in your paper.

The cornerstone of academic writing is to find relevant ideas and concepts put forward by others and build upon them. The aim should be to make inferences and additional contributions of your own. Before you can do that though, you need to be able to determine whether a website is credible enough that you can rely on it.

There are going to be situations in which you need to use information which you couldn’t find in more reliable sources like peer-reviewed journals. This includes things like needing to use information found only in news outlets, or market analysis websites, or even blogs like this one. It’s a meme that does the rounds quite often, but the view of “I found it on the internet, so it must be true” is sadly a fairly common view that many students seem to have.

if its on the internet it must be true

The current generation of students aren’t that gullible, having become desensitized to what the internet has to offer. However, we still see many students finding it difficult to judge whether a website has credibility. This is especially when the content they’re looking at isn’t exactly leaning towards one side or another.

Although we have prepared this credibility checklist for students to use in academic writing specifically, you can also apply these tips in non-educational contexts as well. We suggest that you try to internalize these points as much as possible. With continued use, this should become as a routine part of your mental process.

Checklist for students to consider when evaluating website credibility

Here’s a list of questions which you can ask yourself to decide whether a source is credible enough to include in your assignment paper.

What is the date of the article and when was the webpage last updated?

Some teachers clearly state that they don’t want to see references which are very old. Others may not explicitly mention any such restriction. If nothing has been specified a general rule is to try not to reference sources from more than a decade ago.

As with any rule, there are exceptions, such as the following

  • Core academic concepts which are still relevant in academic circles: for example, you could still directly reference Barney’s (1991) VRIO framework or Porter’s (1989) Five Forces model for industry analysis even though they are more than 3 decades old.
  • Historical news and information: this is the case if you need to specifically refer to a historic piece of information which you can obviously not find in more recent sources

Is the title or the content in the webpage sensationalized?

Sometimes, articles from unreliable sites are obvious and easy to spot as they typically have click-bait titles. As an example, you may have seen these articles with phrases like “what happened next will shock you”. Other times it may not be so apparent. A general rule of thumb is to see if the author is making a mountain out of an anthill.

Is the company or publisher of the site trustworthy?

This could be a bit of an overkill, but to check the trustworthiness of a site, you can also dig further into who sponsors the website and supports publication of information on it.

Who is the author of the article or publication?

Another cue that you can look at when assessing the credibility of a webpage is to see whether the name of the author is mentioned. You could also try to see if they have mentioned something about themselves on the ‘About’ page of the site. Alternatively, you could try to Google their name and see if they have any relevant expertise or background in the topics they are discussing.

Is there contact information to reach out to this author or the publisher of the webpage?

This isn’t always an essential or even valid measure of assessing whether you can trust a website. However, it is an added layer of safety. This is because it indicates that should there be any inconsistency in the information being provided, you can reach out to the author(s) for clarification.

Is the writing style opinionated or biased?

You should try to get a feel for whether the author appears to be providing a balanced and impartial take on the points that they are making. Usually, if someone is biased towards a certain view, subjectivity creeps in naturally in their work. This isn’t always obvious though. You may need to look for non-neutral words indicating opinions such as: “I think”, “I feel” or “I believe”.

However, this isn’t to say that an article of webpage is unreliable just because the author has written it in first-person style or included their personal opinions and conclusions. Instead, you should consider whether the author is providing a balanced view of both sides of an argument. If not, then they should at least substantiate their opinion and views with suitable sources.

Are sources provided for the claims being made?

Another telling sign that you can use to review the trustworthiness of the site is to see if they give citations, references, or external links to relevant sources for the claims that it makes. This is particularly important when it comes to reporting on hard facts, figures and statistics.

Are the references quoted sources also credible?

It’s not enough that the website which you are evaluating the credibility of has external sources. Those sources should also be credible and reliable in their own right. You could also reverse this and see if there are external credible sources that link to the website that you are evaluating.

Is the grammar, style of writing and spelling reasonably error-free?

We’re not saying you should become a grammar Nazi and scrutinize every single mistake on the webpage. No one is perfect and having some minor typos here and there is normal. Typos can also make for some hilarious stores, like the instance in which a student didn’t proofread their work before submission.

John hendel student professor typo

It’s just that if a site has far too many mistakes with the language, it should imply a lack of attention and care to the content put out by the author. This in turn means that there could be a higher chance that the information presented hasn’t been verified sufficiently either. That’s why you should take this factor into consideration as part of the credibility checklist.

Are the other pages on the website also unbiased?

If you have gone through all the steps above and aren’t able to reach a conclusion on the credibility of the site, you could then try this. It should be possible to get an idea if a website is reliable or not by looking at other content that are being published there. You would then have to repeat some or most of the other tips given above to see if those other pages pass the credibility test.

If there is an overall bias in most of the content that you see on the site, that should indicate that the authors contributing to the site are more likely to be pushing the same point of view.

Are you able to verify through triangulation of information?

It is also possible to verify the accuracy of information by looking for other sources that make same or similar claims. As a student evaluating website credibility, this is one for the most important parts in this checklist because triangulation of information is an important skill in academic writing, especially for qualitative research.

This isn’t a universal truth though. For example, if you were to do a search for the conspiracy theory of the world being controlled lizard-men, we’re sure you’re going to find a handful of websites supporting this claim. That doesn’t mean the information is reliable or true because for every website supporting this view, there’s going to be many more that debunk it. You’re going to have to use your best judgement using the other criteria given in this checklist to see if the other supporting sources are valid as well.


Barney, J. (1991). Firm resources and sustained competitive advantage. Journal of management, 17 (1), 99-120.‏

Porter, M. E. (1989). How competitive forces shape strategy. In Readings in strategic management (pp. 133-143). Palgrave, London.‏

Leave a Comment