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Choosing Credible Sources & Spotting Fake News: Electronic Sources

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

Checking for Website Credibility

Ask yourself the following questions when researching from a website:

  • Does the information have a complete list of works cited?
  • Are the references credible, authoritative sources?
  • If the information is not backed up with sources, what is the author's relationship to the subject?
  • Is the expert qualified to give an "expert" opinion?
  • Is the Web information current?
  • If there are a number of nonworking web links or old news, what does this do to the credibility of the information?
  • Is the author biased? Is the author selling or promoting a product?
  • Does the author take a personal stand on an issue?
  • Is the author objective?
  • How does the author qualify as an expert on the topic?
  • Is there contact or sponsorship information?
  • Where was the source published?
  • Is the source a primary or secondary text?

Signs of Credible Sources

Some sources are more credible than other sources. peer-reviewed scholarly journals or works published by a university press professional society or scientific publisher are more likely to be viewed as credible sources. primary sources are often more reliable than a secondary source although secondary sources are good resources to support an argument.

What Kind of Sources Should be Avoided?

  • Popular and collective websites (ask.com, about.com, WebMD.com, Sparknotes.com, etc.) are not generally acceptable as credible sources. These sites have freelance writers who may or may not be experts in the field. The articles and information they collect from other sources may not be reliable. Often, there will not be citations for data sources and if there are, the citations may be from similar sites that do not require expertise in the subject matter.
  • Wikipedia is an online open-source encyclopedia edited by anyone and not fact-checked by experts. Information contained on its pages may not be correct or current. It is not considered, in most cases, to be a valid college-level source.
  • Source material based solely on opinion: Material may or may not be valid, but the material needs reliable sources to support the stated opinions or beliefs with facts and trustworthy information.

Some sources provide a works cited list or reference list. Always check the original source to verify and interpret the information. The sites listed above may not be credible resources in themselves, but may provide links to credible information.

Website Categories

  • Personal Home Pages are owned by individuals, contain informal, casual material showcasing ideas, interests, hobbies, or business and professional materials. These will usually be a .com domain name.
  • Special Interest Sites are maintained by non-profit organizations or activists dealing with special issues, whether mainstream or radical, and may have an agenda. Having an agenda to promote may mean that credibility can be questionable. These will be .org.
  • Professional Sites are maintained by institutions/ organizations, or individuals. They usually include research, reference sources and fact sheets. Materials may come from other sources and if so, should give source locations. The organization or institution provides credentials for reliability of the information. These might be .net, .org, .edu, or .com.
  • News and Journalistic Sites (E-zines) include national, international news, online newspapers, magazines, and "homegrown" Web publications. Anyone can publish "news." Look for the reputation of the publication. If a periodical article has an ISSN number (International Standard Serial Number), it will probably have more credibility.
  • Commercial Sites need only two words to describe them. "Buyer beware." These .coms are trying to sell you something. Check the reputation of the company.

Where do I Find Information about the Site?

To find information about a website, find the home page. You may have to deconstruct the URL. For example, you might be looking for a page that talks about the first jobs of famous business tycoons. The search engine turns up the following site: http://fortune.com/2015/03/31/four-successful-business-tycoons-first-jobs/

In order to find the home page, you need to eliminate everything on the address after the .com

http://fortune.com

Now you have the home page. From there you can access information about the company, note whether material has been updated, and get contact information. The homepage gives a good picture of credibility.

Domain Names

Domain names give you a hint about the Website's purpose.

  • .edu - education sites
  • .gov - government sites
  • .org - organization sites
  • .com - commercial sites
  • .net - network infrastructures

Note that personal websites can be a part of an educational website. The Institution is not responsible for the content on the site, which may belong to a student or to a faculty member. A faculty member may not check a student work for accuracy before allowing the work to be posted. Likewise, the work may have been posted to show a class what NOT to do.

The Most Important Tool to Evaluate Credibility

YOU! You are the most important tool for evaluating a source's credibility. Use common sense and critical thinking skills to determine an author's credibility. Be vigilant in your research. Remember to look at both sides of an issue if you want to effectively argue a point. You cannot conduct too much research. If you read an article stating that dogs are starting a revolution to usher in a world without cats, common sense tells you the information is not credible. Always use common sense.