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3 Using information found online

Having found this course, you are probably someone who uses the internet to search for information. You may have used it to search for information about your leisure interests, health issues, to contact friends using social-media sites like Facebook or to look for study opportunities. The web is also a very valuable learning tool – providing virtually limitless access to a huge range of ideas, libraries, courses and people.

But, the more you use the internet, the more important it is to have a way of evaluating the information you find.

By evaluating, we mean judging how accurate the information is likely to be. This is especially important because information found on the web is not subject to regulation or quality control. This means that information might be out of date, misleading or even dangerous. 

Fortunately, many people have spent time considering how to evaluate web-based information, or websites. A useful checklist has been developed by The Open University so that its students can be fairly sure of the quality of their sources. This is known as the PROMPT checklist.

Introducing the PROMPT checklist

The PROMPT checklist features six evaluation criteria: presentation, relevance, objectivity, method, provenance and timeliness. The words form another mnemonic (like Orbach’s three ‘r’s in Week 2) to help you remember. They probably aren’t words you use every day, so here’s an explanation of each of them in relation to using the internet.

Presentation refers to the appearance of the website. You should ask:

  • Is the information clearly communicated?
  • Is the website easy to navigate?
  • Is the language clear and easy to understand?

Relevance refers to whether the website is really the most suitable for your needs. You should ask:

  • What is the information mainly about?
  • Does the information match my needs?

Objectivity refers to whether the website is likely to give a balanced view of the topic it covers. You should ask:

  • Does the author of the information on the website make their position or any vested interest clear?
  • Is the author likely to be biased?
  • Is the language emotive or designed to persuade?

Method refers to the information provided that backs up or supports any claims that are made on a website. This might be information about the ‘experts’ providing the information, or the source of the information. You should ask:

  • Is it clear how the information was collected?
  • If ‘experts’ are mentioned, are they named?
  • Are links provided to any research data?
  • Do you trust the information provided and the claims made?

The term provenance refers to the authenticity of the website and reliability of the place where the information provided comes from. You should ask:

  • Is it clear where the information has come from?
  • Here, you might consider the website address or URL (uniform resource locator) – academic websites in the UK, like The Open University, usually end with ‘’ and in the USA they usually end in ‘.edu’.
  • Is the author or organisation responsible for the website clearly identified?
  • Is the author or organisation likely to be trustworthy?

Timeliness refers to whether the information on a website is likely to be sufficiently up to date for your needs.

You should ask:

  • Is it clear when the information was produced?
  • Does the date of the information meet my requirements (does it matter for my purpose)?
  • Could the information be out of date?