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ENGL 101

Critical Evaluation of Sources

Before trusting a source of information it is always useful to stop and ask—

"Who is responsible for this information, and why should I trust them?"

It is important to consider this no matter where you find your sources.

Sometimes your instructor will tell you to use sources from the library. Because libraries work to provide accurate and reliable information, most library sources have been critically evaluated. However, your sources still need your evaluation

Additionally, remember that there are a variety of library resources  and your instructor determines what kind of sources are required for their assignments. Here is a guide to help you understand— Types of Library Materials

Here are a couple considerations before using a source in your academic writing:

  • Is the author a subject-matter expert or a professional journalist adhering to a code of ethics? 
  • Has the writing been fact-checked?
  • Has the writing been peer-reviewed?

Peer-review is a time-consuming and effort-intensive process. It is not practical for every single source of information to undergo that level of scrutiny but the process should generate highly reliable information. If your instructor requires you to use peer-reviewed sources, be sure to verify you are meeting that requirement!

\If you are having trouble finding peer-reviewed sources, librarians can help!

What do we mean by "peer-reviewed?"

4 Moves and a Habit- Choosing Reliable Sources On the Web

Researchers at the Stanford History Education Group did a study and discovered that fact-checkers are really good at differentiating fact from fake, much better than students, or even historians.

 Briefly, here are four things you can do and one habit to adopt to become better at distinguishing what is factually true.

  • Check for previous work: Look around to see if someone else has already fact-checked the claim or provided a synthesis of research.
  • Go upstream to the source: Most web content is not original. Get to the original source to understand the trustworthiness of the information.
  • Read laterally:  Once you get to the source of a claim, read what other people say about the source (publication, author, etc.). The truth is in the network.
  • Circle back: If you get lost or hit dead ends, back up and start over strategically.

An important habit to add to the four moves: Check your emotions. 

Some arguments rely on "pushing your buttons" ie. provoking an emotional response. Instead, try to reason your way through an argument and weigh facts objectively.

For more information, check out Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers.