One of the most important things to consider when doing research is to use valid and trustworthy sources. In some cases, your teacher will ask you to use particular sources for the particular assignment. Often, you will be asked to use a number of different kinds of sources—perhaps the requirement is to use a number of articles from periodicals along with other print and online sources.
Valid information can come in a variety of formats—books, databases, web sites, periodicals, blogs, wikis, etc. But not all information will be relevant or reliable for your research.
Use the following criteria when looking at the sources you find on your topic. Authority—
Who is the author of the work? What are his or her credentials? Is the publisher contact information available? When an author is willing to take credit for his work, it is a good indication that he or she has something valid to say. It’s very important if you want to quote someone, that you know that they are an expert, a scholar or a professional. Accuracy—
Does the source cite facts, statistics, or research findings? Is there a bibliography listing sources for further reading or study? Are there references to other sources? Are there quotations,
footnotes, endnotes, citations? These would all indicate that the author has done research to come to the findings he is publishing. Timeliness—
How current is your source? When was this information published? Is there an update available? Was it published first in print or online? If it is a web site, is there a “last updated” date?
Some subjects require more current information than others. If your topic is in the scientific or technology fields, you need very up-to-date information because these are fields that change rapidly. If,
however you are researching something in the humanities or social science, perhaps your sources needn’t be quite as current. Suitability/Relevance—
Does the source actually pertain to your topic? Does it address your questions? How can you tell? Is it well-organized with proper navigational tools like an index or table of contents, search box, or sidebar with subject headings? Is there enough depth of coverage to be useful? Objectivity—
Good informational sources are written with a neutral point of view and without bias. Professional journalists strive for neutrality and objectivity in their reporting. You should beware of
articles that are written with provocative or sensational language that appeal to your emotions. If you use a source that advocates a particular cause, be aware that you aren’t getting the whole picture, and that you need to explore other viewpoints as well. Organization—
How is the source organized? Well-designed and thoughtful sources provide navigational aids, such as a table of contents, a subject guide or an index. It should be readily apparent if the source is arranged chronologically, alphabetically, hierarchically or some other system to help the reader manage the content. A search tool is often provided for web sources. Purpose/Audience—
Be aware of the purpose of the information you are using. Maybe it was intended to sell a product, or to persuade you to join a cause, rather than inform a research paper. Think about these purposes as you locate sources: Business/Marketing—
The purpose of these sources is to sell or promote a product. They are a commercial enterprise that relies on advertising or sales revenues to stay in business. Their audience is consumers. Advocacy—
The purpose of these sources is to promote a cause or influence public opinion. They are often non-profit organizations who rely on donations or membership fees to operate. They often represent political, religious, or social causes. Their audience is voters or activists. Personal websites, social networks or blogs—
There is so much user-generated, unprofessional information available whose authors have any number of agendas. Their purposes may be valid, but they may not be fair-minded or objective. Or they may be just ranting, or providing a forum for discussion. Think carefully before using information from these kinds of sources, and definitely seek verification using other sources first. News—
The purpose of news sources is to provide the most current, up-to the-minute information on local, national or world events. News sources provide primary source material because news reporters go to the scene of the event and provide a first-hand account. Professional journalists strive for neutrality and objectivity and who often specialize in their fields of reporting. News audiences are general citizens. Informational—
The purpose is to report research findings, publish data, or present factual information. Often they are published by educational institutions, professional organizations or government agencies. Their intended audience is researchers, scholars, students, or citizens who need or want information.EVALUATING SOURCES
Step 1: Determine intention or purpose of the source’s creator.
Five categories of purpose of web sites and print media that may be reliable for research
1. Business/Marketing (selling or advertising a product)
- Sponsored by a commercial enterprise
- Selling or promoting products
- Web address (URL) ends in .com
Examples: Amazon, Zappos
2. News (reporting current events, latest updates)
- Primary purpose is to provide extremely current information updated daily, hourly
- Rely on advertising $
- Usually .com
- May provide primary source
Examples: CNN, NYTimes, BBC
3. Advocacy (Promoting a cause, influencing public opinion, selling an idea)
- Purpose is to persuade and/or influence public opinion—the author has an agenda
- Selling ideas rather than products
- Frequently .org
- Often sponsored by political, religious, social welfare groups
- Often rely on member support
- “Donate” or “Join” link
- Language is not neutral but can be provocative, sensational, making generalizations
Examples: PETA, ACLU, Greenpeace
4. Blogs, personal web sites or social network pages (sharing opinions, providing a forum for discussion)
- Wikis or Personal web pages
- Sponsored by individuals who may or may not be affiliated with a larger institution or organization
- May be .edu or .net or .org
- Purpose—to provide forum, share opinion, share resources
- May be integrated into other larger website
Examples: The Daily Beast
5. Informational/Scholarly (presenting factual information, research findings, direction or instruction)
- Sponsored by professional organizations, educational institutions or government agencies—no ads
- Provided as a Public Service—no agenda
- .edu or .gov sites
- Presents research, reports, directories, presentations, topic overviews etc.
- Language is neutral
- Sometimes requires a fee and registration
Examples: databases, Wikipedia, google maps, FirstGov
Unreliable types of sources to be aware of:
Hoax: intention is to deceive, trick the audience using urban legends, misinformation
Parody: intention is to spoof, poke fun, entertain.
Step 2: Apply these 5 CRITERIA to judge the quality of the information presented:
- Who is the author? What makes the author an expert? Are credentials given?
- How can I contact him/her?
- Is it an individual, a corporate author or a government agency?
- Is there “About us” link?
Does the source include:
- Statistics, Facts, Quotations
- References and links to experts and outside sources
- A bibliography for further study
- Footnotes, endnotes, citations
- What is the copyright date?
- When was it last updated?
- May be relative to topic
- Science topics need more up-to-date sources
- Sources in humanities may be older and still relevant
- Bibliography entries require date retrieved and date published
- What aspects of the topic are discussed? How much detail is given?
- How is it organized?
- Chapters with headings
- Highlighted text
- Is there a contents page or index?
- Is it easy to navigate?
- Is the reading level appropriate
- Is there an agenda?
- Is there a clear mission statement?
- Scholarly sources are peer reviewed to ensure objectivity
- Is the language provocative, or inflammatory or sensational?
- Is information presented without emotion or prejudice?