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IST 110 Kolenz: Evaluate sources

Strategies to evaluate sources you find online

Basic source evaluation using set criteria

In order to ensure the sources you use are credible, you must, at the very minimum, evaluate them using some sort of criteria. Librarians at Centre recommend the PROVEN criteria:

Purpose - How and why the source was created

  • Why does this information exist? To educate? To inform? To persuade? To sell? To entertain?
  • Do the authors, publishers or sponsors state this purpose or try to disguise it?
  • Who is the intended audience? The general public? Students? Experts?

 Relevance - The value of the source for your needs

  • Is the type of source appropriate for how you plan to use it and for your assignment’s requirements? (ex. Is it valuable primary evidence? Is it a reliable secondary source?
  • How useful is the information in this source, compared to other sources?
  • Does it answer your question or support your argument? Does it add something new and important to your knowledge of the topic?
  • How detailed is the information? Is it too general or too specific? Is it too basic or too advanced?

Objectivity - The reasonableness and completeness of the information

  • Do the authors present the information thoroughly and professionally? Do they use strong, emotional, manipulative, or offensive language?
  • Do the authors, publishers, or sponsors have a particular political, ideological, cultural, or religious point of view? Do they acknowledge this point of view, or try to disguise it?
  • Does the source present fact, supported with empirical evidence, or opinion? Does it offer multiple points of view and critique other perspectives respectfully? Does it leave out, or mock, important facts or perspectives?

Verifiability -  The accuracy and truthfulness of the information

  • Do the authors support their information with factual evidence? Do they cite or link to other sources? Can you verify the credibility of those sources? Can you find the original source of the information?
  • What do other experts say about the topic? Can you verify the information in other credible sources?
  • Does the source contradict itself, include false statements, or misrepresent other sources?
  • Are there errors in spelling, punctuation, or grammar?

Expertise - The authority of the authors and the source

  • What makes the authors, publishers, or sponsors of the source authorities on the topic? Do they have related education, or personal or professional experience? Are they affiliated with an educational institution or respected organization? Is their expertise acknowledged by other authorities on the topic? Do they provide an important alternative perspective?
  • Do other sources cite this source?
  • Has the source been reviewed by an editor or through peer review?
  • Does the source provide contact information for the authors, publishers, and/or sponsors?

Newness - The age of the information

  • Is your topic in an area that requires current information (such as science, technology, or current events), or could information found in older sources still be useful and valid?  
  • When was the information in the source first published or posted? Are the references/links up to date?
  • Are newer sources available that would add important information to your understanding of the topic?
  • If this is an older source, is it a seminal/foundational source that has been cited numerous times (and is, therefore, still relevant as foundational information)?

What is lateral reading?

How do you normally read an article? Most people read sequentially - they start at the first word of the article and read through to the end. Skilled academic researchers do not read articles sequentially. Instead they skim the introduction, then jump to the conclusion and results section at the end, before delving into the methodology and literature review sections, in the middle, for example. But studies have shown that the most critical reader uses a technique called lateral reading. The lateral reading concept and the term itself arose from research conducted by the Stanford History Education Group (SHEG). Lateral reading means that:

  • before getting too committed to a source, you leave the source and use other known-credible sites to dig deep into the credentials of its author and any sponsoring organizations. You don't just rely on the author credential summary provided by the article or website;
  • you also leave the source to verify any evidence it cites.You don't just assume the citation or link is accurate (the author may have misinterpreted or misrepresented or even fabricated the source).

Watch this video for more information:

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Karoline Manny
Karoline Manny
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