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Evaluating Sources of Information

What are domains?

When the term "web domain" is used, this is referring to the .com/.edu/.org etc. part of a URLWe all use search engines like Google and Bing as part of our everyday lives. When we're looking for accurate information, the domain of a website  can hint at on the intent of the information. However, this is not a clear cut approach; you need to evaluate the content of the information regardless of the domain and consider other evaluation factors

Web domains provide a clue as to the origin of the content - it does not guarantee credibility or accuracy. Good rule of thumb: evaluate everything!  

Web Domains

  • .edu = education
  • .gov = government
  • .org = organization
  • .com = commercial
  • .net = network
  • .mil = military

Compare & Contrast

Domains are no longer an easy checklist for whether information is reliable or not -- you have to evaluate the information as a whole. Compare and contrast the following websites:


While both of these organizations have a clear agenda, the language used by PETA is more inflammatory than AWI's


Both of these websites come from educational institutions, however, the site from Berkley is actually a blog post from an agriculture faculty member. The Colorado State University site simply lists safety facts. The Berkley blog post is more subjective because the author is stating an opinion.


Both of these news websites claim to be authoritative on issues of climate change, however the arguments on Climate Change Dispatch are not cited or backed by reliable sources. While the articles on EcoWatch are clearly more progressive, the journalists link appropriate sources in the articles.

A Note on .gov Sites

Websites with a .gov domain are only available to "official governmental organizations in the United States including Federal, State, and local governments, and Native Sovereign Nations." Therefore, registering a site with a .gov domain is exclusive to government organization and highly regulated with rules they have to follow unlike other web domains.

As a general rule of thumb, .gov websites are considered reliable sources to get information from. However, just because the information is coming from an official government source, that does not mean it's okay to blindly trust the information. Unfortunately, there have been situations where official government organizations or leaders have provided disinformation on their website.  

This is why it is essential to always evaluate the information you find online!


​There are websites claiming to be official government organization sites providing government services or information. These sites tend to target users trying to purchase something such as a fishing license or renewing a vehicle tabs. You can renew and purchase these safely online through official government organization sites.  

ALWAYS check the web domain to ensure it is a .gov site you are using before trusting the site and providing personal information. 

Compare and Contrast


While the .com website looks very legitimate visually, we can tell it is not an official government website because it lacks the .gov web domain. Therefore, the information you provide to this site will more than likely not be secure and services purchased will not be valid. In other words, the .com site would be considered a scam.

The official Wisconsin DNR website notes the only place Wisconsin fishing licenses can be purchased online is through the Wisconsin DNR's GoWild website.

Source: Wisconsin DNR 

Using Google to Search Domains

You can tell Google to retrieve results with a particular domain or search one site by using the advanced search option or using the site: command in the search string.

First click on Settings on your results page and select Advanced search:


Then indicate the domain or site you'd like to search. You also have the option to adjust your search in other fields.

To get the same results directly from the search bar, simply type in site: and the type of domain or the name of a site you want to search within (for example, .gov, .edu,, etc.).