While in some fields of study (like history), currency may not be the most important issue, in others (like science and technology), it's a vital consideration. Older web pages, articles or book are not necessarily bad, but may be missing more current information or viewpoints. Use your judgment to decide whether or not a source is current enough for your needs.
When you're searching library resources (articles and ebooks, for example), it's easy to sort your results by date as needed. See how here.
Out on the open web, however, date information can be harder to find.
- If you're looking at a single page within a website, the publication or last updated date may be near the page title (toward the top of the page) or at the very bottom of the page. It will usually include a day, month and year. (When you cite a web article or specific web page, this is the date you'll need.)
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- The copyright date for the entire website (usually found in the site's footer, often seen at the bottom of all pages within that site's domain) will be listed as a year only, and is not the same as the publication date for any given page on the site. But, it is a clue as to whether a site is actively maintained: if the copyright date is several years ago and you can't find a publication/last updated date, be on the lookout for outdated information.
- Look for the word "copyright" or the copyright symbol: © .
- If a date range is listed, use the most recent year.
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When no publication dates are listed, keep an eye out for:
- Many broken links. These are a sign that no one is actively maintaining a page's content.
- No recent citations. Look within the text for dates, or scan the citation/references list (if available). If all of the sources that the article mentions or cites are several years old, then the article itself was probably published a few years ago, too. Even if it was published more recently, if it only used older sources, it's probably not terribly current.
- Failure to mention major recent events or discoveries related to the subject matter. A web page related to airline security that doesn't at least mention the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, for example, may be older than 15 years.
See also: How do I cite a web page that doesn't list a publication date?