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Library 101: How To Use Western Library In-Person & Online

A quick-start guide to finding library sources for your assignments.

Methods to Evaluate Sources

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If I use library databases why do I have to evaluate my sources? Aren't they already credible?

Mostly library sources (books and databases) are credible, but you still want to double-check:

  • popular sources -  books in the library and eBooks magazine and newspaper articles that appear in the databases 
    • for currency (up-to-date), accuracy, bias, and usefulness
  • evaluate a credible peer-reviewed source for relevance
    • is it right for your research?
    • does your assignment require you to use only scholarly sources?

What about using websites?

Evaluating them is extra important! The 3 methods for evaluation sources listed on this page are different and yet the same. They all ask some version of the questions below.

  • What are the author's credentials?
    • Are they qualified to write about your topic?
  • Is the author biased a certain way?
    • Are they a member of a strongly-leaning group or organization?
  • What year was the article published?
    • Is it still relevant today?
    • Does it provide the most up-to-date information?
  • How reliable is the source?
    • Is it from a reputable author or publisher?
      • university presses are reputable sources
      • Google the publisher - who are they writing for (audience)
    • Do you recognize the author's name?
      • if not, look for their job title or academic rank to tell you about the author's expertise?
      • Google the author to find their job title or academic expertis

More information on evaluating sources is listed below:

ACT Method

ACT UP Evaluation Resources

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Author - Who wrote the resource? Is the author one person, a team, or a company? Are they qualified to write about the topic? Google them to learn more. A credible company will have a link called "About Us." Look for it to evaluate the company.

Currency - Do you need current information or is historical information okay? Look for the date on an article or the copyright date in a book. On a website, scroll to the bottom to see when it was updated last.

Truth - How accurate and reliable is the information? Can you verify the information with 3 other sources? 

Unbiased - There is nothing that is 100% unbiased, but look for resources that impartially represent facts. Look at the funding of a resources. Often funders are looking for a particular outcome as opposed to the actual facts. Follow the money.

Privilege - What might be missing from the research conversation? People of all backgrounds research and write about their findings, but often times people of privilege are published over those who are not.

  • "Privilege is the benefits and advantages held by a group in power, or in a majority, that arise because of the oppression and suppression of minority groups." 
  • "Privilege is the advantages people have that they don't think about because they don't often think about because they never have to experience the oppressive side. Understanding it requires an active effort to see things from the perspective of other, underprivileged people."

To learn more about privilege and how it might influence the quality and credibility of information, link to the LibGuide from the Libraries at Rider University below.

SIFT Method

Mike Caulfield, Washington State University digital literacy expert, has helpfully condensed key fact-checking strategies into a short list of four moves, or things to do to quickly make a decision about whether or not a source is worthy of your attention. It is referred to as the “SIFT” method:

Chart SIFT Method of evaluation

Stop

  • When you initially encounter a source of information and start to read it—STOP
  • Ask yourself whether you know and trust the author, publisher, publication, or website.
  • Don’t read, share, or use the source in your research until you know what it is, and you can verify it is reliable. 
    • The attention economy—social media, news organizations, and other digital platforms purposely promote sensational, divisive, and outrage-inducing content that emotionally hijacks our attention in order to keep us “engaged” with their sites (clicking, liking, commenting, sharing).
    • Stop and check your emotions before engaging!

Investigate the Source

Knowing the expertise and agenda of the person who created the source is crucial to your interpretation of the information provided. Ask yourself:

  • Who wrote the piece?
  • Is the person qualified to write about a topic?
    • Look for author credentials at the top or beneath the article.
    • No credentials? Do a Google search for the person? Move on if you can't find them.
  • Why was it written? What is its purpose? 
    • To inform or educate?
    • To entertain or sell something?
    • To spread disinformation to persuade you to think like the author or person who shared the info?

When investigating a source, fact-checkers read “laterally” across many websites, rather than digging deep (reading “vertically”) into the one source they are evaluating. That is, they don’t spend much time on the source itself, but instead they quickly get off the page and see what others have said about the source. They open up many tabs in their browser, piecing together different bits of information from across the web to get a better picture of the source they’re investigating.

Find Better Coverage 

  • Look for other coverage that includes trusted reporting or analysis on that same claim
  • Trade up for a higher quality source
  • Don't be wedded to using your first source.

Trace Claims, Quotes, and Media to the Original Context 

  • Much of what we find on the internet has been stripped of context.
    • Example 1: You watch a video of a fight between two people with Person A as the aggressor.
      • But what happened before that?
      • What was clipped out of the video and what stayed in?
      • Maybe there’s a picture that seems real but the caption could be misleading.
    • Example 2:  a claim is made about a new medical treatment based on a research finding
      • Are you certain if the cited research paper actually said that?
      • Track it down to verify
  • People who share these stories either get things wrong by mistake, or may be intentionally trying to mislead us.
  • Trace the claim, quote, or media back to the source, so you can see it in its original context and get a sense of whether the version you saw was accurately presented. 

Source:

Butler, Walter, D. Aloha Sargent, and Kelsey Smith. "Information Sources: Bias," Introduction to College Research. OER. Pressbooks. 2020. https://introtocollegeresearch.pressbooks.com/chapter/the-sift-method/

Link to more information about the SIFT Method of evaluating information below:

The CRAAP Test

Does Your Test Pass the C.R.A.A.P. Test ?
When you search for information, you're going to find lots of it . . . but is it good information? You will have to determine that for yourself, and the C.R.A.A.P. Test can help. The C.R.A.A.P Test is a list of questions to help you evaluate the information you find. Different criteria will be more or less important depending on your situation or need.

 

 

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Currency: The timeliness of the information. • When was the information published or posted? • Has the information been revised or updated? • Does your topic require current information, or will older sources work as well? Are the links functional?

Relevance: The importance of the information for your needs. • Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question? • Who is the intended audience? • Is the information at an appropriate level (i.e. not too elementary or advanced for your needs)? • Have you looked at a variety of sources before determining this is one you will use? • Would you be comfortable citing this source in your research paper?

Authority: The source of the information. • Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor? • What are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations? • Is the author qualified to write on the topic? • Is there contact information, such as a publisher or email address? Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source? Examples: .com .edu .gov .org .net

Accuracy: The reliability, truthfulness and correctness of the content. • Where does the information come from? • Is the information supported by evidence? • Has the information been reviewed or refereed? • Can you verify any of the information in another source or from personal knowledge? • Does the language or tone seem unbiased and free of emotion? • Are there spelling, grammar or typographical errors?

Purpose: The reason the information exists. • What is the purpose of the information? Is it to inform, teach, sell, entertain or persuade? • Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear? • Is the information fact, opinion or propaganda? • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial? • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional or personal biases?

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