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How to: Evaluate Sources

 

As a junior or a senior...

...you should now be in the habit of continually checking your cognitive biases and leaning into your intellectual courage to seek out the most credible sources. Use the steps in IF I APPLY prior to using a source in your research paper. 

Here's a refresher on using IF I APPLY to evaluate your sources:

Personal steps

  • Identify emotions attached to topic.
  • Find unbiased overview of topic. Databases such as Gale E-books and Credo will be helpful.
  • Intellectual courage to seek out credible information.  Do not fear evidence that does not conform to your own feelings.

Source steps

  • Authority established. Does the author have education and experience in the field that they are discussing?
  • Purpose/Point of view of source. Does the author have an agenda beyond education? Does the author gain money or political power?
  • Publisher? Does the publisher have an agenda beyond education?  Does the author support one political party or ideology?
  • List of sources (bibliography). Is the evidence sound? Is the evidence from reputable sources? Can the information be confirmed?
  • Year of publication.  Does the year of publication effect the information?

At this level, it can help to practice lateral reading. “In brief, lateral reading (as opposed to vertical reading) is the act of verifying what you're reading as you're reading it,” writes Terry Heick in “This Is The Future And Reading Is Different Than You Remember” on TeachThought.com, a website featuring innovations in education.

  • To use lateral reading to properly evaluate a source, you will have one browser window open on your source (or have the print item in front of you), and then you'll use another browser window to determine what credible sources are saying about this source. Getting other authoritative perspectives on the source helps to identify problematic information. 
  • For example,
    • Is there controversy surrounding the author, and if so, why? 
    • Are other outlets/entities/people  linking to or citing the source, and how are they using that info?
    • What do fact checking sites say about the content, author, and/or publisher?
    • Have other credible news or scholarly sources reported on this topic, or, have they not reported on the topic? If they have, do they include similar information or do they contradict each other? More telling, if credible news and scholarly sources are not reporting on the topic or event, then you  must ask yourself why, and may need to tread carefully.

Ask a Librarian if you are ever unsure about the credibility of your source or if you are having trouble finding the information that you need. Librarians are here to help you whether you are a beginner or advanced in your research skills. Simply click https://libguides.marshall.edu/ask-a-librarian to view all options for connecting with a librarian: you can chat, text, call, or email a librarian your questions. You can even schedule a research consultation where a librarian can evaluate your sources with you and demonstrate best practices. To schedule a one-on-one 30 minute or 60 minute research consultation, click https://marshall.libcal.com/appointments

Additional Source Evaluation Help