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FESNS First Year Survival Guide

Factors to Consider When Evaluating a Source

Whether it's a book, article, or website that you're getting your information from, it always has to be evaluated. Use the criteria below to help you decide whether a source is worth using.

Currency

  • When was the information published/posted?
  • Does your topic require/has your instructor told you to find more current (eg. last 5 years) information?
  • Make note of:
  • Date of publication (recent or not)
  • Date of update (recent? never?)
  • Links (are they working or dead?)

Relevance

  • Does the information relate to your topic?
  • Is it written at the appropriate level?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Make note of:
  • The potential audience (Elementary students? The general population? Researchers?)
  • Relevant links to other resources

Authority

  • Does the language/tone seem unbiased and free of emotion?
  • Where does the information come from? Is the author's credentials/expertise indicated?
  • Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor? Are they a reasonable source (such as a scholarly press) for such information?
  • Make note of:
  • Spelling and/or grammar errors
  • Disclaimers waiving responsibility

Accuracy

  • Is the author qualified to write on this topic?
  • Is the information correct or will you have to check another source to confirm?
  • Was a peer-review or other editorial process used before publication?
  • Make note of:
  • URL ending (.gov and .edu are generally better than .com or even .org)
  • Contact information (address, email, or phone number)
  • Existence of bibliography/works cited

Purpose

  • What is the purpose of the information? Is that purpose obvious or hidden?
  • Are there political/ideological/religious/institutional/personal biases?
  • Make note of:
  • Existence of sponsors or advertisers
  • Purpose of the site (to sell products, to educate the public, to gain web views, to persuade)

Understanding Scholarly Sources and Biased Information

Research done at the university level (whether it's for a proposal, essay, or capstone projects) should mostly include scholarly rather than popular information sources.

Scholarly tends to mean articles, books, conference proceedings, or technical papers that contain original research written by experts who have degrees or other experience in the subject. The author will cite articles, books, websites, and other information that they've consulted during their research.

If you are unaware of whether a source is reliable and of good quality, you can always look at some of its indicators (such as those outlined in the criteria to the left) to assess. Things such as the authority of an author or publisher, or the existence of the peer-review process are good indicators.

Bias is an inclination, preference or prejudice that determines how people see, analyze, write, and decide. Bias can take many forms including: educational, social, financial, political, geographical, and religious. Encountering and dealing with bias is unavoidable, but the key is to identify it in ourselves and others. While researching, you have to make the effort to find accurate and balanced information. Question and evaluate all sources.

Bias can show itself in a number of ways, but you can take actions to identify it.

  • word choice: differences in expression, syntax, and diction can suggest bias.
  • action: Compare two articles on the same topic. In what ways are they different?
  • omitted information: facts, details, and stories may not be complete or truthful. Omissions create incomplete or slanted article.
  • action: Look for differing information among article on similar topics. Look at the attribution of anonymous information.
  • framing: facts might be presented in a way that emphasizes or de-emphasizes elements of a story or article.
  • action: Look for ideas or facts that may be manipulated. Pay attention to the physical location of an article.
  • sources: reliable, well-balanced articles should be presenting information that comes from a variety of sources and constituencies. Sources should be easy to identify.
  • action: Look at the article's bibliography and attributions. Do they represent a wide variety? Do any of the sources have a vested interest in the topic? Is there only one source? Are sources unnamed/uncredited?
  • spin: details or perspectives may only show one side.
  • action: Look for articles that offer time/space to perspectives and details that differ from the author's. 

 

Credit: Miller Library's "Detecting Bias" webpage at Keystone College.

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