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Lemieux Library

Research Toolkit

Summary

magnifying glass on white table photoOne this page:

  • Understand different ways to make decisions on choosing sources, and why those criteria matter.  

Ask yourself:

  • Are these sources relevant to my topic and assignment?
  • Are these sources credible and accurate? Do they provide evidence for their claims?
  • Are these sources consistent with what other experts are saying?

See also: Types of Sources and Topic Development

Evaluation as a Practice

Source evaluation is not a single step in the research process, but an ongoing practice to be applied at every stage. The more you practice, the better informed you will be!

Evaluating Information at Every Stage of the Research Process:

  • Developing a topic: What do you already know about the topic? What do you *think* you know, and how do you know it? What are your biases?
  • Searching for sources: After doing a search, scan the results. Are they relevant to your topic and assignment? Are there gaps? Do your results change significantly when you change your search strategy?
  • Reading sources: What is the context and purpose of the source? Is evidence included to support claims? Where do different sources agree and disagree? 
  • Incorporating sources into your work: Do you have an appropriate variety of sources? Do your sources provide evidence to support your claims? Are you leaving anything out? 

The following posters provide snapshots of theoretical and practical advice for source evaluation from Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers and the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education.

The SIFT model for evaluating web sources

Graphic depicting “SIFT Information Evaluation Habits”: Below are simple habits to practice when looking at information… 1.	Stop: a.	Do you know the website? b.	What is its reputation? c.	What is your purpose? d.	How do you feel? e.	Consider cognitive biases. 2.	Investigate the source: a.	What exactly is the source? b.	What can you find out ABOUT the website? c.	What about the author? d.	Is it worth your time? i.	Stuck? bit.ly/waacinfo – try steps under [W]ebsite & [A]uthor. 3.	Find other coverage: a.	Is other coverage similar? b.	Can you find a better source? c.	One more trusted? d.	More in-depth? e.	What do expert sources agree on with coverage? i.	Stuck? bit.ly/waacinfo – try steps under [A]rticle. 4.	Trace claims, quotes, media to the original coverage: a.	Can you find the original source? b.	What is the original context? c.	Has it been accurately presented? i.	Stuck? bit.ly/waacinfo – try steps under [C]laim. Graphic created by Suzanne Sannwald based on Mike Caulfield’s work on SIFT (hapgood.us).

Authority is Constructed and Contextual

Graphic: Authority is Constructed and Contextual.  Think critically about information – whether it’s from a blog post, a book, or a peer-reviewed journal article. Ask questions about the author(s), the purpose, and the context of the information. Recognize the value of diverse ideas and world views.  •	How do you determine the credibility of a source? •	What makes a source authoritative? •	What points of view might be missing? •	Whose voice does the information represent? Information resources reflect their creators’ expertise and credibility, and are evaluated based on the information need and the context in which the information will be used. Authority is constructed in that various communities might recognize various types of authority. It is contextual in that the information need may help to determine the level of authority required. (ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, 2015) Copyright Bucknell University Bertrand Library Research Services, 2015.

Evaluation Criteria

There are a number of different checklists you can use to aid you in source evaluation. Examples include:

  • CRAAP (currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, purpose)
  • STAR (sufficiency, typicality, accuracy, relevance)
  • 5 Ws (Who, What, Where, When, Why)

It's a good idea to develop your own criteria for evaluating sources. Consider:

  • Your assignment requirements
  • The original context of your sources (who were they published for, and for what purpose?)
  • The source's relevance to your topic 
  • The source's use of evidence to support claims - does it provide citations or background? Could you reproduce the author's research process?

Title: Evaluating Sources. When you search for information you are going to find lots of it! You’ll need to determine if the information you find is good and appropriate to use. When evaluating, ask these questions to help determine quality sources… 1.	Currency: a.	How timely is the information? b.	When was the information published? c.	When was the website last modified? d.	Does the site have any broken links? 2.	Relevance: a.	Is the information important to your needs? b.	Does it relate to your topic? c.	Who is the audience? d.	Is the information too elementary or too advanced? 3.	Authority: a.	What is the source of the information? b.	What are the author’s credentials? c.	Is the author or organization qualified to write about the topic? d.	The author’s education, work experience, or other publications must be in the field they are writing about. 4.	Accuracy: a.	How reliable, truthful, and correct is the content? b.	Does the author use evidence and references that can be verified?  c.	Is the information factual? 5.	Purpose: a.	For what reason does the information exist? b.	Is the author trying to tell you something, teach or entertain? c.	Is the information written with bias? d.	Biases can be political, religious, cultural or personal. A good way to find a website’s bias is to look for an “about” or “about us” link. It’s usually found at the bottom of a webpage.  Image: a man wearing glasses, sitting as a desk with open books and a laptop computer in front of him.

Avoiding Misinformation

Explore this guide to learn more about navigating the complex 21st century information landscape for academic, professional, and personal purposes.

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