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ENGL 100 Webster (Spring 2022)

Evaluating Information

As you are certainly well aware, we are bombarded with information. It's nearly impossible to NOT be inundated by information just by going about our daily routines. So, whether you are searching for information to finish a homework assignment, or you are searching the web to find out how late your favorite taqueria is open, you're going to have to determine if the information you found is accurate.

So, how do you sort out good information from bad? How can you be sure that the information you found is accurate, up-to-date, or reliable? How do you determine if that 30 page article you found in a scholarly journal is going to work for your assignment?

Evaluation.

Evaluating resources can help you make more informed decisions, and can help save you time. 

PROVEN Source Evaluation

PROVEN Source Evaluation was developed by Ellen Carey, a librarian at Santa Barbara City College, in 2017, and updated in 2020. More information about PROVEN Source Evaluation including a pdf handout can be found on the SBCC library research guide.

Remember, it may not be possible to answer all of these questions when evaluating a source.


Purpose: How and why the source was created.

  • Why does this information exist—to educate, inform, persuade, sell, entertain? Do the authors, publishers, or sponsors state this purpose, or try to disguise it? Is the source deliberately trying to misinform?
  • Why was this information published in this particular type of source (book, article, website, blog, etc.)?
  • 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?
  • 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 or opinion? Is it biased? Does it offer multiple points of view and critique other perspectives respectfully? Does it leave out, or make fun of, 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 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?

FactCheck: How to Spot Fake News

In 2016 the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) put together an infographic based on FactCheck.org's article, How To Spot Fake News. The infographic has been translated into 45 languages and can be downloaded from IFLA's website.

While the article and infographic are about fake news specifically, I have found the eight points to be good advice for evaluating any news or other popular information sources such as an Instagram story, a Tweet, or a magazine cover. 

If you'd like more detail about any of the eight points listed below, check out How To Spot Fake News at FactCheck.org

ifla how to spot fake news infographic

  1. Consider the source. Click away from the story to investigate the site, its mission and its contact info.
  2. Read beyond. Headlines can be outrageous in an effort to get clicks. What's the whole story?
  3. Check the author. Do a quick search on the author. Are they credible? Are they real?
  4. Supporting sources. Click on those links. Determine if the info given actually supports the story.
  5. Check the date. Reposting old news stories doesn't mean they're relevant to current events.
  6. Is it a joke? If it's too outlandish, it might be satire. Research the site and author to be sure.
  7. Check your biases. Consider if your own beliefs could affect your judgment.
  8. Ask the experts. Ask a librarian, or consult a fact-checking site. 

The Breaking News Consumer's Handbook

New York City-based NPR affiliate WNYC, developed the Breaking News Consumer's Handbook after having noticed following the September 2013 Washington, D.C. Navy Yard Shooting that the types of misreporting and misinformation being spread following a breaking news story had become predictable. 

  1. In the immediate aftermath, news outlets will get it wrong.
  2. Don't trust anonymous sources.
  3. Don't trust stories that cite another news outlet as the source of the information.
  4. There's almost never a second shooter.
  5. Pay attention to the language the media uses.
    • "We are getting reports..." could mean anything.
    • "We are seeking confirmation..." means they don't have it.
    • "[News outlet] has learned..." means it has a scoop or is going out on a limb.
  6. Look for news outlets close to the incident.
  7. Compare multiple sources.
  8. Big news brings out the fakers. And Photoshoppers.
  9. Beware reflexive retweeting. Some of this is on you.