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Prof. Schwartz - ENG 101 - Mid-Term Elections (11 am): Quality of Sources

Primary versus Secondary Sources

All information, whether in print or by byte, needs to be evaluated by readers for authority, appropriateness, and other personal criteria for value. If you find information that is "too good to be true", it probably is. Never use information that you cannot verify. Establishing and learning criteria to filter information you find on the Internet is a good beginning for becoming a critical consumer of information in all forms.

 

"Cast a cold eye" (as Yeats wrote) on everything you read. Question it. Look for other sources that can authenticate or corroborate what you find. Learn to be skeptical and then learn to trust your instincts.

--John Hopkins University Library "Evaluating Information"

Evaluating Resources - Criteria

This is perhaps the major criterion used in evaluating information. Who wrote this? When we look for information with some type of critical value, we want to know the basis of the authority with which the author speaks. Here are some possible filters:

  • Is the author well-known and well-regarded?
  • If you do not know, consider . . 
    • REVIEWS  - Is the author mentioned in a positive fashion by another?
    • LINKED / FOOTNOTES - you found or linked to the author’s document from another document you trust;
    • BYLINE / BIOGRPAHICAL CREDENTIALS - including the author's position, institutional affiliation and address.

The publishing body also helps evaluate any kind of document you may be reading. Is it self-published or did an organization invest money to print it for the public to read?

 

Ask the following questions to assess the "publisher":

  • For Books/Journals, does it contain a Publisher City and Business Name, Copyright, and Date?
     
  • For online sources is the name of any organization given on the document you are reading?
     
    • Is this organization recognized in the field?
    • Is this organization suitable to address the topic at hand?
       
  • Was the document prepared as part of the author’s professional duties (and, by extension, within his/her area of expertise)?
     
  • Does it reach an even higher standard of scholarly (peer reviewed)?

Currency refers to the timeliness of information. . . . Date of Publication - How important for your issue?

Apply the following criteria to ascertain currency:

  • The document includes the date(s) at which the information was gathered (e.g., US Census data).
     
  • The document refers to clear dates  (e.g., "Based on 2010 US Census data.").
     
  • Where there is a need to add data or update it on a constant basis, the document includes information on the regularity of updates. (e.g. 2010 was the last time this data was collected)
     
  • The document includes a publication date or a "last updated" date.
     
  • The document includes a date of copyright.


Also consider:

  • How the search engine decides on placement? Ranking? Paid Placement?
     
  • Databases sort by "Relevance" or Date?

Accuracy or verifiability of details is an important part of the evaluation process, especially when you are reading the work of an unfamiliar author presented by an unfamiliar organization, or presented in a non-traditional way.

Criteria for evaluating accuracy include:

  • For a research document, the data that was gathered and an explanation of the research method(s) used to gather and interpret it are included.
  • The methodology outlined in the document is appropriate to the topic and allows the study to be duplicated for purposes of verification.
  • The document relies on other sources that are listed in a bibliography or includes links to the documents themselves.
  • The document names individuals and/or sources that provided non- published data used in the preparation of the study.
  • The background information that was used can be verified for accuracy.

Point of view or bias reminds us that information is rarely neutral.

Because data is used in selective ways to form information, it generally represents a point of view.

Every writer wants to prove his point, and will use the data and information that assists him in doing so. When evaluating information found on the Internet, it is important to examine who is providing the "information" you are viewing, and what might be their point of view or bias.

The popularity of the Internet makes it the perfect venue for commercial and sociopolitical publishing.

These areas in particular are open to highly "interpretative" uses of data.

Referral to and/or knowledge of the literature refers to the context in which the author situates his or her work. This reveals what the author knows about his or her discipline and its practices. This allows you to evaluate the author's scholarship or knowledge of trends in the area under discussion. The following criteria serve as a filter for all formats of information:

  • The document includes a bibliography.
  • The author alludes to or displays knowledge of related sources, with proper attribution.
  • The author displays knowledge of theories, schools of thought, or techniques usually considered appropriate in the treatment of his or her subject.
  • If the author is using a new theory or technique as a basis for research, he or she discusses the value and/or limitations of this new approach.
  • If the author's treatment of the subject is controversial, he or she knows and acknowledges opposing views.