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ENG 101: Composition (Dimock)

Evaluating Sources

When selecting sources to include in a paper, it is important to critically examine the creditability of the information presented. The criteria applied to differentiate between varying degrees of quality, recognize bias and conflict of interest, and look beyond advertising and marketing strategies to identify useful information is by-and-large the same regardless of the format of the source. However, the process for doing so differs depending on the format. Succinctly stated, the criterion refers to "what are the standards" and the process to "how the standards are applied."

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?

In-Depth Guide

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.

What Is Misinformation/Disinformation/Fake News

Definitions

Misinformation

(1) The action of misinforming someone; the condition of being misinformed. (2) Wrong or misleading information. (3) An instance of misinformation; an item of misinformation. (Oxford English Dictionary)

Disinformation

The dissemination of deliberately false information, especially when supplied by a government or its agent to a foreign power or to the media, with the intention of influencing the politics or opinions of those who receive it; false information so supplied. (Oxford English Dictionary)

"... there are many problems with the term fake news, and one of them is the close connection to news as a format and as an independent institution. The European Union (EU) report from the independent High Level Expert Group on fake news and online disinformation suggests abandoning the term fake news altogether (HLEG, 2018). As the term is inadequate and misleading to explain the complexity of the situation, the report rather suggests using the term disinformation, which can be defined as 'false, inaccurate, or misleading information designed, presented and promoted to intentionally cause public harm or for profit'” (2018, p. 10). (Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication)

Fake News

An information ecosystem characterized by misinformation (the inadvertent sharing of false information) and disinformation (the deliberate creation and sharing of information known to be false). (Extracted from Wardle, C. (2017). Fake news. It's complicated. First Draft)

"Fake news, or hoax news, refers to false information or propaganda published under the guise of being authentic news. Fake news websites and channels push their fake news content in an attempt to mislead consumers of the content and spread misinformation via social networks and word-of-month." (webopedia)

"Fake news is made-up stuff, masterfully manipulated to look like credible journalistic reports that are easily spread online to large audiences willing to believe the fictions and spread the word." (Angie Drobnic Holan)

Types identified by media professor (Melissa Zimdars of Merrimack College)

There are four broad categories of fake news websites:

  • CATEGORY 1: Fake, false, or regularly misleading websites that are shared on Facebook and social media. Some of these websites may rely on “outrage” by using distorted headlines and decontextualized or dubious information in order to generate likes, shares, and profits.
  • CATEGORY 2: Websites that may circulate misleading and/or potentially unreliable information
  • CATEGORY 3: Websites which sometimes use clickbait-y headlines and social media descriptions
  • CATEGORY 4: Satire/comedy sites, which can offer important critical commentary on politics and society, but have the potential to be shared as actual/literal news

No single topic falls under a single category - for example, false or misleading medical news may be entirely fabricated (Category 1), may intentionally misinterpret facts or misrepresent data (Category 2), may be accurate or partially accurate but use an alarmist title to get your attention (Category 3) or may be a critique on modern medical practice (Category 4.)  Some articles fall under more than one category.  Assessing the quality of the content is crucial to understanding whether what you are viewing is true or not.   It is up to you to do the legwork to make sure your information is good.

Types identified by and misinformation matrix (Claire Wardle from First Draft)

Peer Review Defined

If a source is peer-reviewed, it usually means that it was reviewed by professionals prior to publication. This kind of publication is highly selective, and the review process is pretty rigorous, which means these are some of the most trustworthy sources you can find. But how can you determine if your source is peer-reviewed? Below are three ways to determine whether a journal is peer reviewed:

Search our Journals List

If you're looking to see if a specific journal is peer reviewed, one of the best places to go is our Journal's List here at Memorial Library. First, click on the "Journals List"  tab above the search bar in the middle of the Library Home page.  

use the journals list search option on the mavscholar search box on the librarys main page. 

Then search for your journal or magazine. You can do this in a variety of ways. First, you can search for the journal or magazine by the title or title words. You can also search by part or whole of the journal's ISSN number.

Journal Name Search 

Once you've found your journal, take a closer look at the entry. Look under the title for an icon that says Peer Reviewed to indicate if the journal uses the peer review process.

if the journal is peer reviewed it will have an icon saying peer reviewed.

Searching Ulrich's Periodical Directory

Another method for determining if a journal and its articles are peer-reviewed or not is to look it up. One way to check is through something like Ulrigh's Periodical Directory, which will have a lot of information about the journal or magazine, including if the source is peer-reviewed, or "refereed". Use the link below to search for your journal title in Ulrich’s Periodical Directory.

Ulrich's Periodical Directory

If you see this  icon Ulrich referred icon then the journal is refereed or peer-reviewed.

the striped shirt icon next to the journal means that the source is peer reviewed or refereed.

Search a Journal's Website

Your last option for determining if a source comes from a peer-reviewed journal is to find information from the journal itself. Search for the journal title on the web. From there, look for an editorial policy page or a page for authors to find out if the journal uses a peer review process. This will be where the journal says if it's peer-reviewed, or what kind of editorial process it has. An example of this is below.

A journals about this journal page shows that this journal is in fact peer reviewed

If you have any trouble, please talk to a librarian.

Ask a Librarian

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