Due to the breadth of health sources available, it's important to be able to efficiently appraise the credibility of information sources. While there are many models that can be used to appraise websites and online information, generally they ask similar questions related to authority, purpose, references, and currency. This is the Four Ws Model:
Who created this information?
Is it created by an Institution, Professional Association or Organization, For-Profit Company, Government?
What are the qualifications of the content creators?
Check for an "about us" or "bio" section.
What is the purpose of this information?
Who is the intended audience?
For websites, what is the site set up for?
How is the content paid for?
Where does the information in this source come from?
Are there citations for information and research presented as fact?
Are methods provided for data or research materials presented?
When was the information last updated?
Does the content or website itself show when it was last updated?
How current is the information or research cited?
Sometimes it is hard to tell whether you have a scholarly or a popular article when you are looking at an online full-text article. Here are some clues in a chart developed by the Shapiro Library:
Detailed report of original research or experiment; often structured with background, methods, results.
Secondary report or discussion may include personal narrative, opinion, anecdotes.
Author's credentials are given, usually a scholar with subject expertise.
Author may or may not be named; may or may not have subject expertise.
Scholars, researchers, students; subject-experts
General public; the interested non-specialist.
Specialized terminology or jargon of the field; requires prior knowledge.
Vocabulary in general usage; understandable to most readers.
Required. All quotes and facts can be verified.
Rare. Scanty, if any, information about sources.
Journal of Clinical Nursing; many have Journal in the title. Often only available in libraries.
Popular Science, Discover, National Geographic, Wired, news magazines. Almost anything available in a store.
Definitions from MeSH Publication Characteristics unless otherwise noted.