How reliable are your sources?
How to evaluate your information sources
Before you use any source of information, either for background information or for use in your report, you need to make some decisions about the quality of information you have found. Much of the information you find on the web is misleading or inaccurate. You need to be able to critically evaluate the information you find before you decide to use it. If your articles and reports are not supported by high quality sources they will not carry much weight, even if well written.
You should consider:
Provenance See the glossary definition means where did the information come from? Is it an authoritative See the glossary definition source? You should consider:
- Authors: Are they acknowledged authorities in their field of study?
- Institution: Do the authors work for a university or research body?
- Citations: Have the authors been cited by other authorities in this field of research?
- Source: Is the information or research published in an authoritative journal? Is the journal peer reviewed?
- Special Interest Sources: Is the information published by a body with commercial or political interests. If so, are they just promoting their products or ideas, or can the information by regarded as objective See the glossary definition and reliable?
When was the information published? You should consider:
- Date: Is the information or research up-to-date? Can you see a date in the article or on the web site?
- Website: Is the website well maintained and up-to-date? Are the any out-of-date links on the site? Is the website run by an acknowledged institution (for example, an academic institution hosted on a site with a sub-domain such as .ac or .edu?)
Who is this information aimed at? You should consider:
- Target Audience: Is it clear who the target audience See the glossary definition is? The general public? Students? Academics?
- Relevance: Is the content fully relevant to your topic? Or have you just found something you thought might touch upon what your are writing about?
Is the information biased? True objectivity See the glossary definition is difficult to achieve but you should consider:
- Argument: How is the information written? Does it follow a logical flow?
- Evidence: Are arguments supported by reliable evidence See the glossary definition ?
- Style: Is the information written in a balanced See the glossary definition and impartial style?.
- Facts and Opinions: Are opinions presented as facts? Make sure you understand the difference.
- Sponsorship: is the information promoting a commercial or political interest? Is it promoted by a special interest group?
A Word about Wikipedia
Wikipedia is a wonderful resource. However, it is not a reliable or authoritative source to be cited in any essay or report (unless you happen to be writing about Wikipedia itself). Use it as a research tool to find information and links to more authoritative sources, but don't cite it in your work.