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Evaluating Sources

Information on the kinds of criteria to use when evaluating your sources
by

Sarah Dockray

on 5 May 2014

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Transcript of Evaluating Sources

Evaluating Sources
Authority
Who is the author? Is the person qualified to write about the topic?
Accuracy
Is the information accurate?
Evaluating your sources
A cautionary tale...
So why should I evaluate my sources?
It can be very easy to be tricked into thinking information is credible. Information is not necessarily accurate or appropriate for your assignment simply because it is printed in a book. This also applies to internet sources, as virtually anyone can publish a web site. This is why it is important to evaluate all of the sources you research before using them to write your paper.
Click on this link (http://www.omsj.org/) to visit the Office of Medical and Social Justice, an organization that reports on medical and political issues. Is the author/sponsor of the site a credible source for the topics discussed on the site?
There's a lot of bad information out there!
Most information sources you will find in the library have been peer-reviewed, meaning the book or article has been evaluated by scholars, publishers, or librarians before being published. Web sites, on the other hand, can be created by anyone and are not reviewed before being published.
Aside from being a little silly, this news story looks very professional and well produced. However if you evaluate the original source, The Onion News Network, you'll notice that the video is from a satirical news site that posts fake news stories.
Bias
Why was the information written?
Currency
When was the information written?
Questions? Contact...
Sarah Dockray
Osceola Campus Librarian

sdockray@valenciacollege.edu
(407) 582-4156

Office 4-214 (inside Library)
Office Hours: Monday - Friday, 8am-3pm
Relevancy
One of the most important things to consider when evaluating your source is relevance. Your goal is not to find any source - it is to find the best source that fits your topic. Be sure to browse your source by reading the abstract (summary) for any articles you find. This will help you determine if the source is relevant before you spend your time reading a lengthy article.

You may also want to consider what
kinds
of sources are relevant for your topic. Some assignments may require scholarly sources (academic journal articles, some books) whereas some topics, including current events and popular culture, may not be covered in scholarly sources. Popular sources (newspapers, magazines, web sites, blogs, etc.) can be appropriate for some assignments assuming your instructor does not set restrictions using these kinds of sources.
Finding Credible Research to Use for Your Paper
It could easily fool anyone. Web sites and other research sources can be the same way. It may look like a well-produced web site with accurate information, but when you do a little bit of digging, it is not quite a reliable source.
To get a good grade on your paper!
The research sources you use are a direct reflection on how much effort you put into your paper. A works cited page filled with web sites implies that you simply did a quick Google search and picked random web sites. A mix of source types (books, articles, web sites) shows more effort put into the task of locating sources.
To use the most appropriate sources for your assignment
Certain assignments require certain sources. It may be okay to use outdated sources in paper with a historical perspective, but should not be used in a paper about current events.
To build a solid argument
If someone sees that you use an untrustworthy source in your research such as Wikipedia, you could lose all credibility with the reader and they will be less likely to be persuaded by your argument.
Let's look at some criteria you can use to evaluate the sources you find...
So how do I evaluate my sources?
Click the link below to test your knowledge on biased sources
http://www.factcheck.org

Look around on this web site. Consider the authors and the kind of information presented. Is this a biased source?
This web site would be considered an unbiased source. If you view the organization's mission and staff, you'll find that their goal is to give unbiased information about the accuracy of political news.
NOTE: Even if a source is biased, it does not mean it is off limits. If you must use a biased source, make sure that you find another source representing the other side of your argument.
Check out this web site about Martin Luther King, Jr. (http://martinlutherking.org/). Based on the author, would this site be considered a credible source?
If you click on the link at the bottom of the page that names the web site host (Stormfront), you'll see it is hosted by a white supremacist group. Hardly a reliable source on civil rights history...
Do I Need to Evaluate Library Sources?
While you can assume that most library sources are credible based on the author's credentials and the accuracy of the information, you should still evaluate books and journal articles using some of the other criteria...

Bias
: Some articles can be biased, especially if they are popular articles (from newspaper or magazines). Most scholarly articles will contain a very brief biography of the author - look for signs of bias in his or her credentials
Currency
: You still need to make sure that any articles or books used are as up to date as possible. If you use a dated book or article in your research, it should only be for historical information, or related to a topic that has not changed over time.
Relevancy
: Make sure that the source is appropriate for your topic, and not simply the first search result you come upon.
This site would not be a recommended source. The "About" portion of the web site shows that the author is a private investigator. This does not make him an expert on health and medical topics like a scientist or doctor would be.
Tips for Checking Authority on the Web
Look for a web site's "About Me" or "About Us" section
Look for any links to an author biography in the article
Look for a brief biography at end of the article
Things to consider when choosing a source
Does the source give the author's credentials?
Based on those credentials, could the author be considered an expert in the field?
If not an expert, do they at least have exposure to the topic? For example, a mom blog could be considered a trustworthy source on raising a child.
If no author is given, consider the organization or company who writes or hosts the web site. Could they be considered experts?
Things to Consider When Choosing a Source
Is the information believable?
Can you confirm some of the information presented using other sources?
Does the author cite their sources throughout the article?
Has the information been reviewed by other professionals (or peer-reviewed if it is a journal article)?
If the source is a web site, are there grammatical or spelling errors?

Things to Consider When Choosing a Source
For a book or article. when was it published?
For a web site, when was it last updated? Does the web site look dated and contain dead links?
Are you looking for historical information? Sometimes older sources are acceptable for certain kinds of information.
How important is up-to-date information? Researching a current event or statistics requires the most current sources, as sometimes information can change from one day to the next.
When looking for the most current sources available, consider the amount of time it takes for different types of sources to be published.

Books
: Sometimes it can take 1 to 2 years for a book to be published once it is written. Books are a great source for a general overview or historical background of a topic, but generally will not contain the most current information.

Journal and Magazine Articles
: These sources are usually published within a month or two of being written. If the journal article is peer-reviewed, it could be several months.

Newspaper Articles and Web Sites
: These sources are published within 1 to 2 days of a notable event.
Things to Consider When Choosing a Source
Why was the information written? To inform, persuade, or sell a product?
Does the author present different perspectives, or is the source one-sided?
For a web site, is it hosted by an organization that might harbor political, religious, or other biases?

Remember, your argument should contain information representing both sides - provide evidence that supports your argument along with information representing the other side, then discredit the opposing source.
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