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Lemieux Library

PUBM 5010 Foundations of Public Administration (Richard Nafziger)

This guide supports PUBM 5010 Foundations of Public Administration (Professor Richard Nafziger) for Fall 2020

Evaluating sources

Evaluating information found in a library database:  Many sources which were previously available only in print format are now also available electronically. In some cases, the print version has been discontinued and completely replaced by an online version. This is particularly true of databases (indexes) for locating journal articles. Those resources linked to the library web page have been chosen for their value to the curriculum. You will still need to evaluate the results of your searches, but the resources are provided through library subscriptions because of the value of the content to the campus community.

Evaluating information found on the Web:  Sites which are freely available over the web, such as those found by a search in Google, require thorough evaluation because the quality of the content can vary so widely.

Things to keep in mind when evaluating both print sources and web sites:

Critically Analyzing Information Sources: Critical Appraisal and Analysis

INITIAL APPRAISAL

A. Author

  1. What are the author's credentials--institutional affiliation (where he or she works), educational background, past writings, or experience? Is the book or article written on a topic in the author's area of expertise? You can use the various Who's Who publications for the U.S. and other countries and for specific subjects and the biographical information located in the publication itself to help determine the author's affiliation and credentials.
  2. Has your instructor mentioned this author? Have you seen the author's name cited in other sources or bibliographies? Respected authors are cited frequently by other scholars. For this reason, always note those names that appear in many different sources.
  3. Is the author associated with a reputable institution or organization? What are the basic values or goals of the organization or institution?

B. Date of Publication

  1. When was the source published? This date is often located on the face of the title page below the name of the publisher. If it is not there, look for the copyright date on the reverse of the title page. On Web pages, the date of the last revision is usually at the bottom of the home page, sometimes every page.
  2. Is the source current or out-of-date for your topic? Topic areas of continuing and rapid development, such as the sciences, demand more current information. On the other hand, topics in the humanities often require material that was written many years ago. At the other extreme, some news sources on the Web now note the hour and minute that articles are posted on their site.

C. Edition or Revision

Is this a first edition of this publication or not? Further editions indicate a source has been revised and updated to reflect changes in knowledge, include omissions, and harmonize with its intended reader's needs. Also, many printings or editions may indicate that the work has become a standard source in the area and is reliable. If you are using a Web source, do the pages indicate revision dates?

D. Publisher

Note the publisher. If the source is published by a university press, it is likely to be scholarly. Although the fact that the publisher is reputable does not necessarily guarantee quality, it does show that the publisher may have high regard for the source being published.

E. Title of Journal

Is this a scholarly or a popular journal? This distinction is important because it indicates different levels of complexity in conveying ideas. 

CONTENT ANALYSIS

Having made an initial appraisal, you should now examine the body of the source. Read the preface to determine the author's intentions for the book. Scan the table of contents and the index to get a broad overview of the material it covers. Note whether bibliographies are included. Read the chapters that specifically address your topic. Reading the article abstract and scanning the table of contents of a journal or magazine issue is also useful. As with books, the presence and quality of a bibliography at the end of the article may reflect the care with which the authors have prepared their work.

A. Intended Audience

What type of audience is the author addressing? Is the publication aimed at a specialized or a general audience? Is this source too elementary, too technical, too advanced, or just right for your needs?

B. Objective Reasoning

  1. Is the information covered fact, opinion, or propaganda? It is not always easy to separate fact from opinion. Facts can usually be verified; opinions, though they may be based on factual information, evolve from the interpretation of facts. Skilled writers can make you think their interpretations are facts.
  2. Does the information appear to be valid and well-researched, or is it questionable and unsupported by evidence? Assumptions should be reasonable. Note errors or omissions.
  3. Are the ideas and arguments advanced more or less in line with other works you have read on the same topic? The more radically an author departs from the views of others in the same field, the more carefully and critically you should scrutinize his or her ideas.
  4. Is the author's point of view objective and impartial? Is the language free of emotion-arousing words and bias?

C. Coverage

  1. Does the work update other sources, substantiate other materials you have read, or add new information? Does it extensively or marginally cover your topic? You should explore enough sources to obtain a variety of viewpoints.
  2. Is the material primary or secondary in nature? Primary sources are the raw material of the research process. Secondary sources are based on primary sources. For example, if you were researching Konrad Adenauer's role in rebuilding West Germany after World War II, Adenauer's own writings would be one of many primary sources available on this topic. Others might include relevant government documents and contemporary German newspaper articles. Scholars use this primary material to help generate historical interpretations--a secondary source. Books, encyclopedia articles, and scholarly journal articles about Adenauer's role are considered secondary sources. In the sciences, journal articles and conference proceedings written by experimenters reporting the results of their research are primary documents. Choose both primary and secondary sources when you have the opportunity.

D. Writing Style

Is the publication organized logically? Are the main points clearly presented? Do you find the text easy to read, or is it stilted or choppy? Is the author's argument repetitive?

Tips for Analyzing News Sources on the Open Internet

Tips for analyzing news sources:

  • Avoid websites that end in “lo” ex: Newslo. These sites take pieces of accurate information and then packaging that information with other false or misleading “facts” (sometimes for the purposes of satire or comedy).

  • Watch out for websites that end in “.com.co” as they are often fake versions of real news sources  

  • Watch out if known/reputable news sites are not also reporting on the story. Sometimes lack of coverage is the result of corporate media bias and other factors, but there should typically be more than one source reporting on a topic or event.

  • Odd domain names generally equal odd and rarely truthful news.

  • Lack of author attribution may, but not always, signify that the news story is suspect and requires verification.

  • Some news organizations are also letting bloggers post under the banner of particular news brands; however, many of these posts do not go through the same editing process (ex: BuzzFeed Community Posts, Kinja blogs, Forbes blogs).

  • Check the “About Us” tab on websites or look up the website on Snopes or Wikipedia for more information about the source.

  • Bad web design and use of ALL CAPS can also be a sign that the source you’re looking at should be verified and/or read in conjunction with other sources.

  • If the story makes you REALLY ANGRY it’s probably a good idea to keep reading about the topic via other sources to make sure the story you read wasn’t purposefully trying to make you angry (with potentially misleading or false information) in order to generate shares and ad revenue.

  • If the website you’re reading encourages you to DOX individuals, it’s unlikely to be a legitimate source of news.

  • It’s always best to read multiple sources of information to get a variety of viewpoints and media frames. Some sources not yet included in this list (although their practices at times may qualify them for addition), such as The Daily Kos, The Huffington Post, and Fox News, vacillate between providing important, legitimate, problematic, and/or hyperbolic news coverage, requiring readers and viewers to verify and contextualize information with other sources.

Tips for How to Recognize a Fake News Story

In a Huffington Post story from November 2016, the author lists nine things to look for to help determine if a news story is real or fake:

How to Recognize a Fake News Story

Image source:  "How To Recognize A Fake News Story" by Nick Robins-Early, Huffington Post, Nov. 22, 2016.

Why Fact Check?

"It's more important than ever to be critical online."

Watch this short video (1 min, 33 sec) to compare real-life experiences with and without fact-checking. Video developed by Swedish fact checker Viralgranskaren and IIS (The Internet Foundation In Sweden).

"Fact checking online is more important than ever," uploaded by MetroSverige, 2016, Standard YouTube License. 

Questions to Ask

When reading a news article, consider the following.

  • What kind of article are you looking at? Is it a news story, an editorial, an opinion piece, or an advertisement?

    • A news story is a factual, prose story for print or broadcast media about a person, place or event answering these five questions: who, what, when, where, why and how. A news story is written in the inverted-pyramid style, giving the most important information first and additional details later.

    • An editorial is a brief article written by an editor that expresses a newspaper's or publishing house's own views and policies on a current issue. If written by an outsider it normally carries a disclaimer saying the article does not necessarily reflects the publisher's official views.

    • An opinion piece is an article in which the writer expresses their personal opinion, typically one which is controversial or provocative, about a particular issue or item of news.

    • An advertisement is a paid, public communication about causes, goods, services, ideas, organizations, people, or places designed to inform or motivate.  

  • What is the main point of the story? Does the headline and the lead support the main point of the story? 

    • Many unreliable news sources sensationalize an article's headline or lead to gain clicks. 

  • Has the story answered the questions of Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How?

    • What is unknown, unanswered, or unclear should be acknowledged. 

    • Other sides should be given a chance to present their argument. 

    • Many breaking stories are incomplete or inaccurate due to deadlines and the 24hr news cycle. If more information is made available, the story should be updated accordingly. 

  • What evidence supports the main point of the story? What evidence has been verified? How was it verified? What evidence has not been verified? Is the evidence direct or indirect? 

    • Evidence is not the same as a source. Evidence is the proof a source offers. Evidence that is verified has been checked and corroborated via a stated method of verification.  

  • What kind of sources are cited in the article? Are they reliable? How do you know? 

    • A source is the person, report, or data being quoted in an article. 

    • Sources can be named or unnamed. Multiple or single. Credentialed or not. Close to the event/issue or not. Named, multiple, credentialed, close sources are preferred, though in some cases an anonymous source may not be named due to potential backlash or harm to the source for speaking out. 

    • When looking at reports or data as a source, be sure to look at the producer of the information. Do they have a stake in the event or issue that could make the report or data biased? 

  • Does the journalist/reporter/news source make their work transparent? How does the editorial board, the publisher, and the advertising department work together? Does the paper have a code of ethics? 

    • Finding out what influence different departments have or don't have on each other should be easy if it is a reputable source. 

    • A code of ethics, standards, or guidebook should be associated with the news source and easy to find.

    • Potential conflicts of interest or known associations should be stated up front in an article. 

    • Funding and ownership of the media production should be publicly available. 

Bias

There are more types of bias than political bias. Be sure to watch out for: 

Commercial Bias
News is sponsored by advertisers.  Does the news presented reflect the advertisements embedded within the media?

Temporal Bias
News agencies look for "breaking stories," often relegating old news to the back page or leaving it entirely uncovered. Scan the back pages too!

Visual Bias
Including visuals will draw the reader's attention.  Do images presented evoke specific responses?  Do they prejudice the reader to view the news one way?

Sensationalism
Good news is less exciting than news that is shocking or frightening.  Does the media exaggerate details to make a story more interesting?  Does the news agency focus only on the negative aspects of a story?

Narrative Bias
Writers will generally develop a plot line - beginning, middle, and end - complete with drama.  News, however, is rarely so tidy. Remind yourself that stories you read in the news are "unfolding." If a story captures your attention, its best to follow that story over a period of time.

Fairness Bias
Ethical journalism is, in theory, fair.  When a controversy arises, reporters will generally attempt to get the "other side" of the story.  When a rebuttal is reported, it can seem like the media is taking one side or another.  Read carefully to determine if presentation of both arguments is neutral.

Expediency Bias
News is driven by deadlines. Those deadlines sometimes mean that reporters will return to experts they know well and have had successful contacts with previously. This may slant news in towards the political views of these experts.

Websites to Help

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Rick Block
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