WR 121 - Nick Hengen Fox: Thinking about sources
While there is no perfect formula you can use to that will let you figure out how credible an information source is, if you make a practice of using SIFT, it will help you select high quality sources for your academic work. SIFT means:
When you begin to read, STOP and ask yourself if you know from experience if this is a reliable source. Your goal is not to track down every claim, but to see if a website is reliable. If you know the site is reliable, go ahead. If not, go through the next steps. You may not need to do all the steps- go as far as you need to determine reliability.
Investigate the Source
Say you are looking for something on children and sexual identity. There are two organizations that you might find the "American Academy of Pediatrics" and the "American College of Pediatricians." How did fact-checkers determine that one was reliable, and the other a hate site?
Look it up!
So, in short, put the name of the organization (or a news website) in your search box, and the word "Wikipedia" Read the Wikipedia page enough to determine if this is a source you want to use. If there isn't a Wikipedia article, take out the word "Wikipedia" and repeat your search to see what others have to say about this source.
A related technique is to copy the URL up to the internet domain (.com, .org, .biz, etc.) and search for just that part of the URL on another browser tab.
Still not sure if your website is reliable?
Find Better/Trusted Coverage
If you're not sure if the source you're looking at is reliable, one thing you can do is just keep looking! We live in an world of information abundance. If the information being provided by a site is high quality, it is mostly likely going to be available elsewhere as well.
Trace Claims, Quotes and Media to the original context.
Most stuff you see on the web is not original reporting or research. Instead, it is often commentary on the re-reporting of re-reporting on some original story or piece of research. And that's often a problem- think of the old "Telephone" game. So what to do?
Get as close as you can to the original source of the information. If a person, report, etc is quoted on a website or in an article, do a new search, can you locate the original?
Know Your Sources
When selecting sources for your research, it's important to know what type of source you're looking at. The Know Your Sources infographic will help give you an idea of who created and what went into the creation of the source you're looking at.
Questions to think about
In addition to the skills discussed on this page, you can try to evaluate any given source of information by considering various qualities that the source of the information might or might not have. Librarians (and others interested in this stuff) often refer to these "CRAP" criteria (really!): Currency, Reliability, Authority, Purpose/point of view.
- How recent is the information?
- How recently has the website been updated?
- Is it current enough for your topic?
- What kind of information is included in the resource?
- Is content of the resource primarily opinion? Is is balanced?
- Does the creator provide references or sources for data or quotations?
- Who is the creator or author?
- What are the credentials? Can you find any information about the author's background?
- Who is the published or sponsor?
- Are they reputable?
- What is the publisher's interest (if any) in this information?
- Are there advertisements on the website? If so, are they cleared marked?
Purpose/Point of View
- Is this fact or opinion? Does the author list sources or cite references?
- Is it biased? Does the author seem to be trying to push an agenda or particular side?
- Is the creator/author trying to sell you something? If so, is it clearly stated?