Consider the following example.
You decide to research the topic of whether municipalities should add fluoride to public drinking water.
A Google search produces a mix of government, health, and consumer advocacy sites, including this one from a popular natural medicine website Natural News[New Tab]. (Keep this tab open to answer some of the following questions about the site.)
1. Start by examining the URL
You might begin with a quick check of the URL (the link) and the domain; this will tell you something about the overall purpose of the site. Which of the categories below does this natural medicine site fall into?
2. Look around the site
Further evidence of a commercial purpose is clear by the striking presence of advertisements for natural health products and apps, many of which are not related to the topic. Also note the online store. What might this tell you about the intent of the site?
Is it possible to determine the accuracy of the information? The external links provided at the bottom of the article simply refer back to other articles on the same website. A check of the two studies referenced do not conclude that fluoridated water causes the purported health problems, but conclude that further investigation is needed.
3. Leave the page
Now it’s time to find something out about the website and its owner.
Open a new tab or window and do a quick Google search for the website or the owner’s name (find this on the About Natural[New Tab] News page). Scan the first few results. How is the website and its owner regarded by other sources, namely the mainstream press and Wikipedia?
Notice that the Wikipedia page for Fluoridated Drinking Water includes a link to the controversy[New Tab] surrounding this topic. Go one step further and open the Talk[New Tab] page for this article. What do the comments from Wikipedia editors indicate?
Want further confirmation that Natural News might be less than reliable? Try searching one of these fact-checking sites:
In sum, take a few extra minutes to learn something about the source you are considering.