COMM 111 Martin: Evaluate Sources
Evaluating Sources on the Web
On the web, it can be difficult to tell what type of source you’re looking at and whether or not it’s something that would provide quality evidence for your assignment. This video will help you look more critically at your own search results.
Evaluating Sources: Questions to Ask
How do you know if a source is right for your research? Below are some questions you can ask about your sources. There are no good or bad sources, but sources can be useful or not useful based on the evidence you're looking for.
- Who is the author? What do you know about the author’s background? (hint: Google the author). What makes the author an expert on this particular topic (remember that experience and research are markers of expertise as well as education)?
- What journal, magazine, organization, or website published this information? Look for an "about" page on the publisher's website (or explore their website) and also Google the name of the publication/organization/website (or look for a Wikipedia page about it) to learn more about the publisher of the information. What kind of reputation does it have? What is their purpose in sharing this information? Is it known for promoting specific points of view?
Can you tell where the information in the article came from? Do they share any information from other sources or does it seem like they’re sharing their opinion? If they used other sources, do those sources seem worth trusting?
Based on your answers to these questions, would you trust this source? If not, could anything from this article still be useful? Often articles link to other useful resources or mention other authors and studies that could be helpful.
You may not get good answers from all of these questions, but still trust a source. For example, an opinion piece from a noted expert in a specific field could be a useful source, but chances are, they are not going to be citing sources. Information from the Centers for Disease Control website is trustworthy, but much of it doesn't have an author. You have to weigh each of these factors when making your decision.
Figuring out how a site is biased can be tricky work. In our zoom sessions during week 5, we will look at one of my favorite techniques, which is officially called "reading laterally." Here is a resource that explains this strategy: https://webliteracy.pressbooks.com/chapter/what-reading-laterally-means/
There are also websites that can help you identify the bias of a publication or website, such as:
https://www.allsides.com/media-bias/media-bias-ratings : helpful media ratings and charted coverage of how media reports on issues across the political spectrum
Scholarly? Professional? Popular?
When you have a research assignment, be sure to figure out what types of article sources are required or allowed. Some professors require you to use only scholarly peer-reviewed journals while others might let you use a variety of journals.
Scholarly article: Also known as peer-reviewed, academic, or refereed, these articles are written for researchers and experts and usually share the results of a research study. Scholarly articles are written by experts in the field and are reviewed by expert peers. In many databases, you can limit your search to scholarly, peer-reviewed, or refereed journals to weed out any non-scholarly content. Scholarly article example
Professional/trade article: Written for people working in a specific field. Articles can be written by experts in the field or by staff writers. The articles are only reviewed by journal editors, so they go through a less rigorous review process. Trade article example
Popular journals: Written for a general audience rather than for professionals or scholars, and written by journalists. Examples include The New Yorker, People, and Rolling Stone. Popular article example