Evaluating Information

One of the most basic concepts in doing good research is evaluating the information you plan to use. This is something you likely do already in some form or another, though maybe you don’t think about.

This tutorial, through a series of videos, will provide a framework for thinking critically about all the information you encounter… or making yourself a nice lunch. Hopefully both.

 

Who is the author?

If someone or something is taking credit for the information you’re considering, be certain to discover that individual or entity’s:

  • Credentials (How does the author know the material?)
    For example: a pediatrician is an expert on childhood vaccinations. A high profile television celebrity is not.
  • Affiliation (What organization or group, if any, is the author working with?)
    For example: an experienced writer with the New York Times has more journalistic credibility than a seasoned Buzzfeed contributor.

 

Is the content good?

Questions of content take more abstract consideration. Try to keep in mind.

  • The author always has an intention. Find out what it is.
  • Intended audience matters. Materials written for experts tend to be more authoritative than those written for the populace at large.
  • How the author gathered information matters. If you can’t find that out through citations or the writer’s own expertise, the information may not be very reliable.

 

Is the information current?

While it is important that your information is current, keep in mind that "recent" means different things in different disciplines. Ten years can be a good cutoff date, but it is important to realize that while in computer science, ten years is completely outdated, in literary criticism, ten years can be quite fresh.

 

What are the references?

People make things up a lot more than we’d like. Citations or reference to other research helps sift out what is authoritative from what is wishful thinking (or outright lies). What’s more, if a useful article cites other useful articles, it makes it that much easier to find them.

 

Who is the publisher?

It might be a website, or a newspaper, or a book, but whatever the source of publication, it likely has some kind of reputation, and that reputation is valuable you’re considering your source. Things like the domain name (.org, .com, .edu) can be useful indicators but it’s important to dig deeper than that. Make certain the "host" of your information has a good reputation.

 

Check out the Evaluating Information Rubric