How to Evaluate the Credibility of a Source

Thứ bảy - 27/04/2024 01:08
We are constantly surrounded by information, and it is not always easy to know which sources to trust. Being able to evaluate the credibility of information is an important skill used in school, work, and day-to-day life. With so much...
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We are constantly surrounded by information, and it is not always easy to know which sources to trust. Being able to evaluate the credibility of information is an important skill used in school, work, and day-to-day life. With so much advertising, controversy, and blogging going on, how do you sift through the chaff and cut to the chase?

Source Evaluation Help

Source Evaluation Cheat Sheet
Method 1
Method 1 of 2:

Evaluating Sources for Academic Projects

  1. Step 1 Understand academic standards.
    Scholarly writers are held to a higher standard of rigor than casual writers and even some branches of journalism. As such, you must hold your sources to a higher standard as well.[1]
    • Citing information from an unreliable source makes academic audiences wary of your entire argument because it is based on information held to a lower level of integrity.
    • Academics have a long memory; too many transgressions into the land of unreliable sources, and you’ll be a marked writer with a marred reputation.
  2. Step 2 Consider the author’s scholarly reputation.
    [2] Within each field, there are a handful of scholarly thinkers considered the giants of the discipline. For example in literary theory, Jacques Lacan, Jacques Derrida, and Michel Foucalt are three towering figures whose work provides the bedrock of the discipline; citing them would go a long way toward establishing your credibility as a scholar within the field.
    • This is not to say that less-established scholars’ work is not credible. Sometimes, citing a scholar who goes against the tide of established thinking provides you with ammunition for a compelling devil’s advocate argument.
    • In academia, these types of arguments are sometimes more valued than those based on the writings of famous thinkers because they suggest you have the ability to question accepted thinking and push the boundaries of the discipline.
    • Be aware of any credibility scandals that may have befallen even well-established academics. For example, critical theorist Slavoj Žižek’s reputation and credibility has been significantly damaged after a 2014 accusation of plagiarism.[3]
  3. Step 3 Focus on scholarly, peer-reviewed sources.
    These sources should be your first avenue of research when undertaking an academic project. They have the highest possible level of credibility, and you can always feel safe using them. There are two elements to unpack for this designation: “scholarly” and “peer-reviewed.”[4]
    • Scholarly sources are written by experts in a particular discipline for other experts in their field. They are written to inform, not entertain, and assume a high level of previous knowledge because they are written specifically to people who have a vested professional interest in technical information relevant to their specialization.
    • Peer-reviewed articles are not only written by experts, but are also read and evaluated by a panel of peers — other experts in the field. This panel of experts determines whether or not the sources used in the article were credible, whether the methodologies used in studies are scientifically sound, and render a professional opinion as to whether or not an article meets the academic standard of integrity. Only then will an article be published in a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal.
    • Almost all peer-reviewed journals require a subscription fee. However, if you have an active .edu email account from a university where you either attend or work, you can make use of the library’s subscriptions to databases to access these journals.
    • Using the library website’s database search engine, use the advanced search to restrict your search results to “peer-reviewed” sources.
  4. Step 4 Use discretion with all websites.
    If you are using any online source other than a scholarly university database, you should exercise caution because anyone can publish their thoughts on the internet, regardless of the merit of those thoughts.[5]
    • As a general rule, all .gov websites are credible because they have the weight of governmental institutions behind them.
    • Websites that end in .com and .org are sometimes credible, but sometimes not. In these cases, you need to look at the institution or organization that is producing the information. A private individual does not have the credibility needed for academic work; however, a large, established organization like the American Medical Association or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do.
    • There are large, famous organizations that are still known to have biases. For example, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals will provide only that information which supports their cause, whereas the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services might provide the same family of information without agenda bias.
    • Websites that end in .edu also fall into the category of “sometimes credible.” Individual faculty often provide course websites that include information pertinent to classes they teach. These sites may include lecture materials and interpretation of sources. While faculty at a university are reputable, this information does not go through the “peer-review” process discussed earlier. As such, you should be more cautious with it.
    • If at all possible, look for that same information from a peer-reviewed source, rather than a professor’s personal .edu source.
  5. Step 6 Distinguish between scholarly and non-scholarly books.
    If an author has had their manuscript accepted for publication, that means that someone has deemed their ideas worthy of discussion. However, there is a significant and important difference between books published for scholarly and non-scholarly purposes.
    • Scholarly books are written with the sole purpose of informing; they offer new ideas, criticize old ones, and present new data or theories relevant to an audience of academic scholars. Non-scholarly books might deal with scholarly subject matter — sociology, for example, or politics. However, they are written to entertain a lay audience, not to inform a scholarly audience.
    • Scholarly books are often published by university presses (Amherst College Press) and professional associations (American Historical Association), whereas non-scholarly articles are published by commercial publishers (Houghton Mifflin).[6]
    • Scholarly books will provide an extensive list of references to bolster their academic credibility, whereas non-scholarly books often make claims without any credible referential support.
  6. Step 8 Consider the timeliness of the source.
    Scholarship is a continually evolving body of knowledge, and information that is once groundbreaking may be proven incorrect or outdated within a few years or even months. Always check the date of publication for a source before making a decision about whether or not it is reliable information for your project, as the timing of any information in any resource is absolutely vital to being able to understand if it is still a valid source of information.
    • For example, as recently as the 1960s, most scholarly linguists believed African American Vernacular English to be a deficient, broken form of standard American English reflective of African Americans’ lack of cognitive abilities. By the 1980s and 90s, the majority of linguists had come to embrace African American Vernacular English as a distinct dialectical variation of American English with its own patterned grammatical structures and diction.[8] The entire line of thinking reversed itself within a couple decades.
  7. Step 9 Use unacceptable sources and methods in an acceptable way.
    So far, we have discussed many types of sources that are unacceptable for scholarly writing: many websites, non scholarly books, etc. However, there are ways to use those types of sources to your benefit without citing them.
    • Students are always told, “Never use Wikipedia.” That’s true — you should never cite Wikipedia for multiple reasons: it’s written anonymously, so you can’t know the credibility of the author, and it’s continually updated, so it’s not a stable source.
    • However, if you find information that you find useful, that information may be cited in a more reputable footnote. If the cited source meets the other standards for credibility, read that source and cite it. Use Wikipedia as a starting point that points you toward better sources.
    • Do the same for any other websites that don’t meet the high standard for academic integrity.
    • If you cannot find that information corroborated in scholarly sources, that’s a red flag that the information is not trustworthy, and you should not include it in your argument.
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Method 2
Method 2 of 2:

Evaluating Sources for Everyday Life

  1. Step 2 Research the author.
    A source is more credible if written by someone with a degree or other credentials in the subject of interest. If no author or organization is named, the source should not be considered highly credible. However, if the author is presenting original work, evaluate the merit of the ideas, not the credentials. Credentials have never guaranteed innovation and the history of science tells us that the big advances in sciences tend to come from outsiders, not the establishment. Some questions that you should ask about the author are:
    • Where does the author work? Do they have credible work or study experience?
    • If the author is affiliated with a reputable institution or organization, what are its values and goals? Do they benefit financially by promoting a particular view?
    • What is his or her educational background?
    • What other works has the author published?
    • What experience does the author have? Are they an innovator, or a follower and promoter of the status quo? Is the author capable of representing the topic with a good structure?
    • Has this author been cited as a source by other scholars or experts in the field?
    • In the case of an anonymous author, you can check who published the website with It will tell you who registered the domain name and when, how many other domains they have, an email address to reach the person or organization as well as the mailing address.
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  • Beware of using Wikipedia as a source for academic or journalistic writing. While a scientific study showed that Wikipedia is as accurate as professionally generated encyclopedias[12] , it is generally considered not credible enough for use in articles where accuracy is of extreme importance.
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