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Step-by-Step Guide & Research Rescue: Evaluating Credibility

This guide will help you understand how to efficiently and effectively do basic research.

Evaluating Your Sources

In your search for information, you eventually face the challenge of evaluating the resources you have located and selecting those you judge to be most appropriate for your needs. Examine each information source you locate and assess sources using the following criteria:

Your resources need to be recent enough for your topic. If your paper is on a topic like cancer research, you would want the most recent information, but a topic such as World War II could use information written in a broader time range.

Does the information come from an author or organization that has authority to speak on your topic? Has the information been peer-reviewed? (You can use Ulrichsweb to determine if a journal is peer-reviewed) Do they cite their credentials? Be sure there is sufficient documentation to help you determine whether the publication is reliable including footnotes, a bibliographies, credits, or quotations.

Who are the intended readers and what is the publication's purpose? There is a difference between a magazine written for the general public and a journal written for professors and experts in the field.

Does this article relate to your topic? What connection can be made between the information that is presented and your thesis? An easy way to check for relevance is by reviewing the Abstract or Summary of the article before downloading the entire article.

Biased sources can be helpful in creating and developing an argument, but make sure you find sources to help you understand the other side as well. Extremely biased sources will often misrepresent information and that can be ineffective to use in your paper.

Evaluating Websites

Websites create an interesting challenge in evaluating credibility and usefulness because no two websites are created the same way. The TAARP method described above can be used, but there are additional things you want to consider when looking at a website:

The look and feel of the website - Reliable websites usually have a more professional look and feel than personal Web sites.

The URL of your results - The .com, .edu, .gov, .net, and .org all actually mean something and can help you to evaluate the website!

  • Informational Resources are those which present factual information. These are usually sponsored by educational institutions or governmental agencies. (These resources often include .edu or .gov.)

  • Advocacy Resources are those sponsored by an organization that is trying to sell ideas or influence public opinion. (These resources may include .org within the URL.)

  • Business or Marketing Resources are those sponsored by a commercial entity that is trying to sell products. These pages are often very biased, but can provide useful information. (You will usually find .com within the URL of these resources.)

  • News Resources are those which provide extremely current information on hot topics. Most of the time news sources are not as credible as academic journals, and newspapers range in credibility from paper to paper. (The URL will usually include .com.)

  • Personal Web Pages/Resources are sites such as social media sites: blogs, Twitter pages, Facebook, etc. These sources can be helpful to determine what people are saying on a topic and what discussions are taking place. Exercise great caution if trying to incorporate these sources directly into an academic paper. Very rarely, if ever, will they hold any weight in the scholarly community.

Are there advertisements on the site? - Advertisements can indicate that the information may be less reliable.

Check the links on the page - Broken or incorrect links can mean that no one is taking care of the site and that other information on it may be out-of-date or unreliable.

Check when the page was last updated - Dates when pages were last updated are valuable clues to its currency and accuracy.

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