Navi: Research Guide Evaluating Information Sources

Evaluating Information Sources

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Evaluating Information Sources: Basic Principles

Quantity

Enough resources are needed to:

  • Support your argument
  • Include a variety of viewpoints and materials

Diversity

Variety is necessary. Include many different resources.

  • Primary Sources
    • Contemporary accounts of an event and original documents
    • Examples: letters, diaries, audio-recordings of speeches, newspaper articles
  • Secondary Resources
    • Retrospective sources based on primary resources; include scientific or scholarly analysis
    • Examples: books, articles, editorials, reviews, scientific studies

Date of Publication

When was the source published? Make sure the date of publication is appropriate for your project.

  • Current Events Research
    • Use resources that are recent and reflect current attitudes.
  • Historical Research
    • Use a variety of resources from different time periods including both primary and secondary resources.

Quality and Reliability

When choosing your resources, the most difficult task is determining their quality and reliability. Factors to think about:

  • What is the tone?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • What is the purpose of the publication?
  • What assumptions does the author make?
  • What are the bases of the author's conclusions?
  • Does the author agree or disagree with other authors of the subject?
  • Does the content agree with what you know or have learned about the issue?

To help determine this, it might also help to look over the source's documentation and read some reviews of the source.

Additional Resources

Does the source provide other leads?

  • Documentation (i.e., footnotes and bibliography)
    • Provides additional resources
    • Substantiates the author's research

Scholarly Journals vs. Popular Magazines

When conducting research, scholars often rely on articles from scholarly journals rather than popular magazines.  See the table below for a list of some differences that exist between these two types of resources.

Characteristics

Scholarly Journal

Popular Magazine

Appearance
  • Sober and serious
  • May contain graphs or charts
  • Will not find glossy pages or photographs
  • Attractive appearance
  • Advertisements
  • Heavily illustrated
  • Glossy paper

Audience

Scholars and students

General audience

Authors

Scholars in the field of study

Reporters, usually not experts on the subject

Documentation

Sources cited in footnotes and/or bibliography

Sources not cited or cited informally

Purpose

Report results of original research or experimentation

Provide general information

Article Acceptance
Procedure

Many scholarly journals are "refereed journals" - they undergo a process called "peer-review" where other scholars in the field examine the articles before being published.

Written by hired reporters, edited by magazine editors, and published.

Examples

American Journal of Psychology
Journal of the American Medical Association 
American Quarterly    American Journal of Psychology cover

Psychology Today
Newsweek
National Geographic
National Geographic Cover

Evaluating Web Pages

Before using information found on a web page for your research project, consider the following criteria to evaluate its credibility.

  • Authority
  • Purpose/Intended Audience
  • Currency
  • Objectivity
  • Support

Authority

Criteria & Questions to Consider

  • Who wrote the page?
  • What are the author's credentials?
  • Can you verify the author's credentials?
  • Could the credentials be made up?
  • Did the author include contact information?
  • Whose web site is this?
  • What organization is sponsoring the web page?

Tips & Ideas

  • Look for the author's name near the top or the bottom of the page. If you can't find a name, look for a copyright credit (©) or link to an organization.
  • Look for biographical information or the author's affiliations (university department, organization, corporate title, etc.).
  • Anyone who has visited a chat room knows that people don't always identify themselves accurately.
  • Look for an email link, address, or phone number for the author. A responsible author should give you the means to contact him/her.
  • To verify a site's organizational sponsorship:
    • Look at the domain (.com, .edu, .org, etc.).
    • Look for an "about this site" link.
    • Be careful of a web page that has a tilde (~) in the URL, as this usually identifies a personal directory on a web site.

Purpose/Intended Audience

Criteria & Questions to Consider

  • What is the purpose of the page?
  • Why did the author create it?
  • Who is the target audience?

Tips & Ideas

  • The purpose of the page could be advertising, advocacy, news, entertainment, opinion, fandom, scholarship, satire, etc.
  • Some pages have more than one purpose. For example, http://www.dowjones.com/ provides free business information but also encourages you to subscribe to the Wall Street Journal or other Dow Jones products.
  • To identify target audience:
    • Look at reading level of the page: is it easy to read or challenging? Does it assume previous knowledge of the subject?
    • Consider the design of the web page: are there banner ads and animated GIFs, or does the page present a lot of text with little decoration?
    • Possible audiences include: academic researchers, kids, buyer's of competitor's products, participants in a support group, political extremists, and more.

Currency

Criteria & Questions to Consider

  • Is there a date at the top or bottom of the page?
  • Is the information up-to-date?

Tips & Ideas

  • Note: A recent date doesn't necessarily mean the information is current. The content might be years out of date even if the date given is recent. (The last update of the page might have been from someone changing an email address or fixing a typo).
  • To determine if information is up-to-date, compare the information on the web page to information available through other sources. Broken links are one measure of an out-of-date page.
  • In general, information in science, technology, and business fields ages quickly. Information in the humanities and social sciences age less quickly. In some cases, old information can be perfectly valid.

Objectivity

Criteria & Questions to Consider

  • Is the author being objective or biased?

Tips & Ideas

  • Biased information is not necessarily "bad", but you must take the bias into account when interpreting or using the information given.
  • Look at the facts the author provides, and the facts the author doesn't provide.
  • Are the facts accurately and completely cited?
  • Is the author fair, balanced, and moderate in his/her views, or is the author overly emotional or extreme?
  • Based on the author's authority, try to identify any conflict of interest. Determine if the advertising is clearly separated from the objective information on the page.

Support

Criteria & Questions to Consider

  • Does the author support the information he/she uses?
  • Is the support respectable?

Tips & Ideas

  • Look for links or citations to sources. Some academic web pages include bibliographies.
  • Does the page cite well-known sources or authorities?
  • Does the page cite a variety of sources? Do other pages on the same topic cite some of the same sources?
  • The web page in question should have a mix of internal links (links to web pages on the same site or by the same author) and external links (links to other sources or experts).
  • If a web page makes it hard for you to check the support, be suspicious.

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