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Seven Steps - A Research Strategy: 6: Evaluation

(formerly IvyTILT)

Evaluation

 TACO Time!

You will need to judge for yourself the quality of the material you find on the Open Web and in other resources.  Apply critical thinking skills to determine whether the information found can be useful to you. So, here's a chance to have TACO time!  Think about these evaluation criteria as you search:

  • Topic: consider the relevance, scope, and accuracy of the source.
  • Authority: find out about the author, creator, or publisher.
  • Currency: determine how timely the information is for your information need.
  • Objectivity: examine the perspective, intent, and purpose of the source.

Read the explanation at the right for more about each of these criteria.   

Select the tabs below to learn more about evaluating information resources.

Topic (relevance)

The first step in a research strategy is understanding your topic and knowing that your topic responds to the assignment instructions.  Your topic becomes a significant factor in how you select and evaluate websites and other information resources.  For example, a website should

  • cover your topic and connect to your purpose for writing
  • provide useful, unique, and accurate information
  • provide sources for the information presented and have links to additional information
  • not be a platform for advertisements (unless you are studying online marketing).

Authority

Determining the author of a website is an important first step in evaluating a website’s reliability. An author’s name will usually be at the top or bottom of a webpage or near an article title, and many websites provide credentials for the author as well. Is the author an expert this field, or have you found an opinion unsupported by cited sources?
 

Understanding who the publisher, creator, or owner of a website may be as important as identifying the author. The publishing body is the group that pays to host the website. This can be a for-profit company, a non-for-profit organization, a college/university, a government agency, or even a private individual. If you are unsure as to whether or not your source is trustworthy, you can always check with your instructor or a librarian!


 

Currency

One of the benefits of using a web resource is that it is often the most current way to get information.  Events that happen are often published to the Web moments after they occur. Since that is the case, it is important to know that the information you are using is up to date.

When examining the timeliness of a website, you may notice several different dates: the date that the site was first published, the date of the most recent update, and the copyright date. However, a recent date doesn’t necessarily indicate up-to-date information. Webpages may be updated (by adding a link or changing the page layout) without making any change to the content. You can assess whether a website is well-maintained by seeing if the links on the page work and by looking for references to dated information (e.g., seeing “according to 1990 Census data" may indicate that the information is dated, unless it's being compared to more recent data).     

Objectivity

As you evaluate information on the “open web,” you will discover differing perspectives, positions, opinions, prejudices, intentions, and—biasesOne can think of a bias as a filter through which an author understands a given subject or concept.   Sometimes such a filter distorts objectivity or presents an incomplete picture of the truth or reality of the subject.  Sometimes these filters are tied more closely to emotion and intuition than to research and fact. A presentation that lacks objectivity often

  • is one-sided or extremely prejudicial
  • has a stated or hidden intent to persuade or mislead
  • tries to establish a particular position as if it were supreme

One may find some of the most authoritative information about a product from the website of the company that makes it; however, what is the company's intent? to inform? to persuade? to promote or market?

Apply critical thinking to your selection and use of all information, especially information that comes from a one-sided presentation or from an argument that is dismissive of other points of view.  Even if the webpage cites authoritative sources, the analysis of those sources can be biased.  You may be undercutting your own position in your coursework by using sources that espouse an extreme prejudice, particularly if you do not acknowledge this prejudice.  Be vigilant and find information about the author or organization and the cited references (if there are any).   If you then choose to select information from a biased source for citation, recognize and analyze this bias for the benefit of your readers.   

Sometimes it may be challenging to determine the reliability of information found on the Open Web through an assessment of the website itself.  Journalists, and others interested in assessing information on the Open Web, make use of organizations and agencies that have made fact checking a priority.

A few fact checking sites to consider:

  • FactCheck.org is a nonpartisan, nonprofit project of the annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.  You might find the article "How to Spot Fake News" at FactCheck.org helpful.  Read more about how one can: 
    • Consider the source
    • Read beyond the headlines
    • Check the author
    • Assess supporting evidence
    • Check the date
    • Consider whether the material is satire or a joke
    • Review your own biases
    • Consult experts
       
  • Politifact is a project of the Tampa Bay Times begun in 2007.   It evaluates claims made by news sources, politicians, and others and rates the statements on its "Truth-O-Meter" with the most egregious falsehoods getting a "Pants on Fire" status.
     
  • The website Snopes has been investigating urban legends and uncovering hoaxes for over two decades.  When you encounter a story in the news that seems outlandish or too strange to be true, check whether Snopes has information about it.    

 

Before taking information sources at face value,
especially those that cover current events, try applying these considerations first.

(From the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions)

Now, try these self-check questions as
an informal quiz of your understanding. 

Evaluation


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