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HN&F 610: Nutrition and Fitness: Evaluating Resources

A guide designed for graduate students enrolled in HN&F 610.

Evaluating Websites

Evaluation of information is an important step in achieving information literacy.  Websites especially need to be critically examined.  The following are some tools that can be used to evaluate information found on the Internet:

How to Determine if a Source is Legitimate

Consider the Source:  Is the source recognized as credible by the nutrition industry or profession?  Does it have a history of imparting information that is balanced and unbiased?  Is it potentially biased due to stated or inherent political, social, or professional affiliations?  Is the source externally or internally monitored to ensure the information it imparts is fair and unbiased?  Is it a primary or secondary source of information?

Check Reviews of Sources:  Some common sources of reviews include Book Review Index and Periodical Abstracts.  Sources dedicated to vetting online information include,, and

Determine Whether the Source is a Member of or Governed by Reputable Industry Organizations

Look for a Corroborating Source:  Does an equally creditable source support the information imparted by the initial source?  If not, does the difference lie in the manner in which facts are stated or in the manner they are interpreted?  Either way, procede with caution.

Identify the Intended Audience:  Is the source imparting information to a general audience or to an audience allied with the nutrition profession?  If the information is directed to a general audience, is it thoroughly presented?  Does it identify professional sources?

Identify Potential Conflicts of Interest:  Is the source supported by advertising?  If so, is the information imparted "advertiser friendly?"

Research the Author:  Does the author have a degree or other credentials pertaining to the subject of interest?  If the author or his/her professional affiliation isn't identified, what makes the author a credible source?

Evaluate the Source's/Author's Sources:  Does the author cite sources to support his/her statement?  Do the sources have a degree or credentials pertaining to the statement?  Is there any potential bias due to political, social, or professional affiliations?

Look for Peer Reviews:  Assuming the information derives from a journal, determine whether it has been peer-reviewed, meaning evaluated by qualified individuals in a related field.

Check the Date:  Information gathered by online search engines frequently isn't dated.  If it's not, be careful, the information may be out-of-date.

Reference:  Truths, Lies, and Rumors in the Media: Consider the Source.  Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.  May 2012. 112(5): 602-609.

Evaluating Research Articles

10 Questions to Ask When Studying Research Studies

1.  What type of study is it?

  • Peer-reviewed?   Presentation at a conference?
  • Retrospective or prospective?
  • Observational?  Case report?
  • Epidemiological?
  • Randomized, Controlled, Double-Blind?

2.  Where was it published?

  • Not all scientific journals carry equal weight; generally, the better studies are in the better journals
  • Look for well-known journals and leading journals in their respective fields
  • Higher impact factors indicate more influential journals. 
    To check impact factors, look up journals in the Journal Citation Reports database

3.  Who funded the research?

  • Be aware that studies paid for by non-profit groups can be done to promote a particular agenda
  • Studies funded by a company or an industry are not necessarily biased or inaccurate, but be aware that they can be. 
  • The key is to make certain the study acknowledges its funding source and that it was conducted as independently as possible.
  • Look for Conflict of Interest statements--they are usually at the end of the article in a small font.

4.  Who conducted the research?

  • Studies are usually given greater weight that are done at reputable, well-known universities or health centers with good track records for research in a particular field
  • Look for research setting in either the Methods section or the Introduction.  Also, can look at the addresses of the authors or study centers.

5.  Was it a human trial?

  • Be careful about applying results from animal or cellular studies to humans

6.  How long did the study last?

  • The key is whether the study was long enough to adequately measure its desired outcome.  Example: is a 6-month study long enough to measure long-term weight loss?

7.  How many participants were studied?

  • Did the study include enough subjects to be statistically significant?
  • Remember that small numbers can produce meaningful results in clinical trials

8.  What kinds of people were included?

  • Studies looking at men only may or may not be applicable to women
  • Research on patients with cardiovascular disease may not be applicable to people in general

9.  What do other experts say?

  • The journal may run an accompanying editorial commenting on the research
  • Professional associations and national health groups can help to filter the plethora of research reports and studies

10.  What phase was the study?

  • Research on new drug treatments goes through three or four phases.  Focus on Phase III trials or later.

Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter Special Report, June 2006, pp. 4-5.