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Criteria for Evaluating Information

Criteria Questions to Ask Issues to Consider
Authority / Credentials
  • Who is the author or creator?
  • What are the author's qualifications and credentials for writing about this subject? 
  • Are they an expert in the field? How do you know?
  • How reputable is the publisher? 
  • Are there organization affiliations? And are they reputable?
  • Does the information provide references or sources for data or quotations?
  • Just because someone has credentials doesn't mean they are an expert on the topic at hand.
  • Goals and aims of the people or groups presenting material is often unclear
  • Web often functions as a "virtual soapbox" 
  • Distinction between advertising and information can be blurred, especially on the Web
  • It is easier now more than ever for anyone to publish on the web. Scholars, too. So it becomes difficult to judge authors. See Using Blogs for more information.

Learn more about determining the credibiity of an author

Type of Source / Audience

  • Is the information academic, Trade or Professional, Substantive News, Popular, or Sensational?
  • Is it an encyclopedia or published through a museum?
  • Is the purpose to educate?
  • How do you know?
  • Is there a peer-review process, fact-checkers, or editors in place who review the material before publication.
  • More scholars are self publishing or posting pre-print versions of their work.
  • Whether the information is behind a paywall or available via open access.
  • To strengthen your argument, use a variety of types of information.
  • Do not rely on one source / type / publication for all of your information.

Learn more about how to determine audience

Purpose / Point of View
  • Is the information presented with a minimum of bias?
  • Is it fact or opinion? Does the information reflect an author's bias?
  • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
  • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional or personal biases?
  • To what extent is the information trying to sway the opinion of the audience?
  • Who is responsible for its dissemination?
  • What is the purpose of the information? Is it to inform, teach, sell, entertain or persuade?
  • Is the creator/author trying to sell you something?
  • Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
  • If the author has a position, is it well reasoned and argued and supported by empirical evidence? 
  • Goals and aims of the people or groups presenting material may be unclear
  • Web often functions as a "virtual soapbox" 
  • Distinction between advertising and information is blurred on Web.
  • If you are going to use a source that is biased, you want to make sure that the position reflected is supported by ample evidence.
  • You also want to acknowledge any bias in your paper or article.
  • To strengthen your argument, cover a variety of points of view

Learn more about discerning the point of view

Accuracy / Objectivity / Bias
  • Where does the information come from?
  • How reliable and free from error is the information? How do you know?
  • Were there editors and fact checkers?
  • Is the information supported by evidence?
  • Has the information been reviewed or refereed?
  • Can you verify the information in another source or from personal knowledge?
  • Is the content primarily opinion? Or is it balanced with multiple points of view?
  • Does the language or tone seem unbiased and free of emotion?
  • Crosscheck the information with other sources.
  • Anyone can publish on the Web
  • Look at the editorial process, or lack thereof
  • Web pages move; social media accounts are deleted. If you quote this source, will it be available later?
  • Web pages are susceptible to accidental and deliberate alteration.
  • Current information is more likely to be accurate, especially for news and scientific information
  • Late-breaking news may be wrong or substantially reinterpreted as more credible information comes to light.
  • Who gathered the data? Why are they gathering it?
  • How did they collect the data? Was the data self-reported?
  • What questions were asked? Did they including leading questions?
  • What is the sample size? Is it large enough to be significant?
  • Who is reporting the data? Why?
  • Always check the sample size.
  • Look at how the data has been framed
  • Look at how the data has been presented, especially for tables and graphs
  • Correlation is not causation

Learn more about evaluating data

  • How recent is the information?
  • Is the information up-to-date?
  • Is it current enough for your topic? 
  • Has it been updated or revised?
  • Is the publication/copyright date clearly labeled?
  • Have new situations risen or information become available that put the source in a new light?
  • Dates not always included on Web pages
  • If included, a date may have various meanings:
    1. Date information first written
    2. Date information placed on Web
    3. Date information last revised
  • Remember that just because the webpage has been updated recently, that doesn't mean that all of the information on the webpage has necessarily been updated.

Learn more about currency

Content Coverage / Scope
  • What topics are included in the work? 
  • Is the scope broad or narrow?
  • Are the topics included explored in depth?
  • Is the coverage adequate?
  • Are references to additional sources provided?
  • Are many sides of the topic covered? 
  • Is there evidence to back up the arguments?
  • Be sure the source has the kind of coverage of the topic that you want before you decide to use it.
  • Web version may differ from print version of same title 
  • Often hard to determine extent of  Web coverage

Learn more about determining coverage and scope

  • Is it easy to navigate and read?
  • Is there a Table of Contents, Index, or page numbers to guide you?
  • Is there a contents page, site map, navigation bar?
  • Are special plug-ins required?
  • Is it mobile-friendly?
  • Are there a lot of advertisements? Are they easy to avoid?
  • How useful is a source if it is difficult to navigate
  • Usability is closely tied to format and purpose
  • Do the advertisements over.whelm the content
  • Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
  • Is the information at an appropriate level (i.e. not too elementary or advanced for your needs)?
  • Have you looked at a variety of sources before determining this is one you will use?
  • Would you be comfortable using this source for a research paper?
  • You may find something to be interesting, but make sure it has a place in your main argument.
  • Use a variety of sources and types of information to strengthen your argument

Learn more about relevance

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