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Choosing Credible Sources & Spotting Fake News: Evaluating the Text

This guide examines how to verify the credibility of sources. Included are tips for spotting fake news.

Checking Credibility

You've probably heard "If it's on the Web it must be true!" before. Well, it may not be, and you may find false information on dozens of sites. Here are some tips to be sure that your research is as accurate as possible. The author helps determine credibility. Be wary of websites or documents hiding personal opinion as fact. If the information is not presented as a personal viewpoint, what is the original source? Is the source credible? Any group can give itself an official sounding name or logo. A recent incident had Presidential candidate Donald Trump appearing for a veteran's group on the battleship the U.S.S. Iowa. The problem was that the "group" only had one member, had a $30 bank account with $318 in debts and was denied a 501c3 status. The failure to properly vet the group resulted in some bad publicity for both the group and the candidate. There's the more recent event, in which now President Donald Trump claims that the murder rate in the U.S. is the highest in 47 years, which is false. Fact checking is important. It pays to know who - or what - you are dealing with, both in business and in academics. Information on how to avoid irresponsible or untrue research sources can be found within this libguide. The best way to evaluate information is through the CRAAP Test. Yes, that's really the name of the useful tool for verifying reliability and validity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the original CRAAP test designer's site describing the five criteria.  

http://www.csuchico.edu/lins/handouts/eval_websites.pdf

Author

In order to critically analyze sources, you should ask questions. Examine authors closely. When you select a book or article, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I familiar with that author?
  • Is this author cited in other articles or books on the subject he or she is writing about?
  • Have you heard your instructor mention the author's name?
  • Is the author associated with a university?
  • What else has the author written?

Date of Publication

You want the most current sources you can find if you are researching a current issue. If you're researching an older topic, you may go back several years to look at sources. If you're researching something that happened a hundred years ago and there's been a recent article or book written about it, be sure to check it. Perhaps the author found new evidence that changes the first book's argument. Check the translation information. If you see more than one date, a newer edition may reveal new information about the topic.

Objectivity

When analyzing text, it's important to consider bias. Bias doesn't necessarily indicate that it should be discarded, but you have to use your own critical thinking skills to evaluate the content. For instance, the author may thank a pro-life organization for supporting research on abortion. You may feel that suggests a biased work, which fails to present facts. A hasty judgment may cost you valuable research. Secondary sources provide interpretations of primary data, and interpretations are influenced by the author's context. Determine where the author stands and use the evidence accordingly. Look at different interpretations of data to help establish your point. Remember--in order to present an effective argument, you should know BOTH sides of the argument!

Purdue OWL: Evaluating Sources

Instructor Nguyen on Evaluating Sources

Click here to access Mrs. Nguyen's video on the ERC YouTube channel.

Publisher

Ask yourself the same questions about the publisher that you asked about the author. You can find the publisher's information within the first pages of the book or on a website (typically under the "about" tab).

  • Did a university press publish the text?
  • Did a popular press publish the text?
  • Do I know any other books this publisher published?

(If a university press published the book, it's likely that it meets a high academic standard)

Applicability

Does your source apply to your research? If using a book, examine the table of contents to decide. Look at the book's index. You can use the index to look at specific passages and determine whether your topic is well defined. You can read an abstract if your source is online or even skim the article.

Audience

You've heard it often-KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. It's important to consider the intended audience when analyzing text. For instance, if you encounter a work that contains a lot of data and graphs, it's likely that it was aimed at an academic audience. If the rhetoric seems simple and includes pictures, the author may have been aiming for a younger audience. Observe the advertisements if you're evaluating an article in a newspaper or magazine. Who does the publisher seem to be trying to reach?

Tone

The tone of an article or book reveals how the author represents himself or herself through the text. Impassioned rhetoric may suggest that the author is too emotionally invested to the work to provide a thorough objective analysis. Ask yourself the following questions about the author's tone:

  • Does the author make wild claims or assertions?
  • Does the author use emotional rhetoric?
  • Does the author seem focused on the argument he or she is making?
  • Does the author's thoughts seem random and incomplete?
  • Does the author's information appear to be propaganda?
  • Does the author's rhetoric suggest an objective viewpoint?

Remember, even though an author may appear biased, that does not mean it is bad information. Weigh your options to determine whether it is information relevant to your research.

Evaluating Sources Video