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Conducting Research for a Paper

Assessing Quality of Information

When selecting sources to include in your research paper, it is important to critically examine the credibility of the information presented. Applying criteria to differentiate between varying degrees of quality, recognize bias and conflict of interest, and look beyond advertising and marketing strategies is key to ensuring the information presented in your paper is accurate. You may also be required to include scholarly sources your bibliography.

Research Tip: Evaluating print sources differs from electronic and requires you to engage in the practice of lateral reading.

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Criteria and Processes for Evaluating Sources

Quick Guide

When consulting any source, consider:

  1. Authority—Who is the author? What is the point of view or frame of reference of the author?
  2. Purpose—What is the intent behind the creation of the source? Who is the intended audience?
  3. Publication and format—Who published the source? In what medium?
  4. Date of publication—When was it written? Has the information been updated?
  5. Relevance—How relevant is the source to your research? What is the scope?
  6. Documentation—Are sources cited? Who did they cite?

Process for Evaluating Electronic/Online Information

Before evaluating a source accessed via the web, it is important to determine if the source itself can be trusted. Failure to assess if the source is what it says it is can result in much wasted time and effort. There are three strategies that can be employed to establish the reliability of a source. These strategies include:

  • Getting one's bearings--When attempting to orient oneself in an unfamiliar area of study, it is important to acquire a sense of direction by stepping back and surveying the digital landscape. It is important to acknowledge and understand the web is a maze "with trap doors and blind alleys, where websites are designed, created, and financed by groups intent upon promoting particular agendas or interests.
  • Reading laterally--After quickly scanning a website, open up new browser tabs (right click) and investigate the creditability of the original site as opposed to reading vertically or staying within a website to evaluate its reliability. Be careful not to be fooled by the scientific presentation, usefulness, graphic design, or apparent authoritativeness of an organization.
  • Practicing restraint in clicking on links--After conducting a Google search, do not open any links until examining the snippets of information provided on the search results page.

Remember to be vigilant and do not fall prey to professional-looking graphics, listings of academic references, and the allure of .edu or .org domains.

Based on information extracted from Wineburg, S., & McGrew, S. (2017). Lateral reading: Reading less and learning more when evaluating digital information.

Here is a list of general rules apply when evaluating news obtained through social media.

  • Content: What do I know about the topic in the news post? Jot down your prior knowledge of the news post's content.
  • Motivation: Do I need to do more in-depth research, or is the information in the news post sufficient? Why did you make the decision to conduct further research or proceed with applying the list of criteria?
  • Reputation: What is the reputation of the person or organization that posted the news on social media? What do you know about the person or organization?
  • Confirmability: Can you find the same news elsewhere? Perform a simple search on Google news.
  • Evaluation: Determine whether or not the news seems credible based on the evaluation criteria. Note why or why not the news seems credible.

Extracted from Johnson, S.T., & Ewbank, A.D. (2018). Heuristics: An approach to evaluating news obtained through social media. Knowledge Quest, 47(1), pp. 8-14.

Identifying Scholarly Sources

Minnesota State University, Mankato. (2019 December 5). Identifying scholarly information [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lkmbFp8SUJM&feature=youtu.be

Evaluating Websites Using Lateral Reading

University of Louisville Libraries. (26 June 2020). Lateral reading [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZvsGKvqzDs

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