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What should I be thinking about when evaluating sources?
Who wrote it? Can you find their name? Are they trustworthy? Are they an expert in the field? Is it an organization? A government agency? A random person? A student? A journalist?
When was it written? Or last updated? Does that matter? Could the information have changed?
Who is the source intended for? The general public? Professionals/experts? Students?
Why does the site exist? Is it trying to sell you something? Persuade you about an issue? Provide factual information? Provide an opinion?
What organization is behind the site? What is their connection to the issue? Are they potentially biased?
*Tip: Use the About Us section or go to the base URL, which is everything up to & including the domain (.com, .gov, .org, .edu).
Types and Indicators of Bias
Types of bias
- self promotional
Does this source omit facts or details?
Is it spin? Does it have a call to action?
Is it trying to sell you something? Sell you on something? Convince you of something?
If you said yes to any of the above questions, it's time to call that information into question. How do you do that?
- Find the original source of the statistic or fact.--If you can strip away the commentary around the facts, you can strip away some of the bias.
- If you can't find the original source, triangulate it.--See if you can find at least 2 other reputable sources that say the same thing before you use it.
- Check the emotion at the door.--Both yours and the sources'. Emotional appeals are strong persuasive measures, but often do not have a place in purely academic writing.
- Find another source.--The more conversial a topic, the more biased sources emerge at the top of the "popular" search results.
- Use scholarly rather than popular sources.--Not entirely free of bias, scholarly articles are less likely to contain blatant bias as a result of the peer review process they must go through.
How will a source help you?
Isn't there just a checklist for this?
No checklist will ever substitute for good old-fashioned thinking about your sources, but here are some to get your brain started down that road.