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Research Skills Tutorial

Credible Sources

Evaluating information for research is just a specialized, advanced form of the same critical thinking skills you already use.

Why is it necessary to critically evaluate information sources?

  • No source of information is guaranteed to be trustworthy.  You always need to use your own educated judgment, even with scholarly articles from library databases.
  • Some sources of information are more trustworthy than others, but it can be hard to tell from appearances.
  • Evaluating information using critical thinking will save time and effort by filtering out materials you should not use.
  • Your critical thinking will show up in your writing and you will get better grades.

Your professors may tell you to find credible information sources. This is a subjective term with many definitions, but the general consensus is that credibility is a combination of reliability, authority, validity and accuracy.

  • Reliability means that the entities that sponsored, supported, or published the information source have a reputation for quality, and integrity.
    • The entity can be a journal, book publisher, movie studio, any kind of organization that puts information out on a website, etc.
  • Authority means that the creator of the information source is an expert in the field.
    • The creator can be an author, multiple authors, or an organization, government agency, company, etc.
  • Validity means that the research in the information source was conducted in ways that are commonly accepted for that field of study. 
    • For example, anecdotes are not valid in the sciences. Raw numbers are not valid in the humanities.
    • There are some inclusions that are not valid in any scholarly field of study: logical fallacies, blatant emotional manipulation, deceit, etc.
  • Accuracy means that you have ways of determining the correctness of the information in the information source.
    • You can verify the information in one information source by checking it against other information sources.
    • You can verify the information in an information source against real world tests that you perform yourself.

Questions to Consider

  • Who wrote this?
  • When was this written? 
  • Who provided funding for this?
  • Who published this?
  • What potential conflicts of interest are there?
  • What kinds of sources did they get their information from?
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