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:
B. Date of Publication
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?
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.
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
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?
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).
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.
There are more types of bias than political bias. Be sure to watch out for:
News is sponsored by advertisers. Does the news presented reflect the advertisements embedded within the media?
News agencies look for "breaking stories," often relegating old news to the back page or leaving it entirely uncovered. Scan the back pages too!
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.