Many credible sources can be obtained through RCCC's catalog and databases, but how can you determine if the source is applicable to your research? How can you determine if a web resource is credible? Before using information found on a website or through RCCC for your research project, consider the following criteria to evaluate its credibility and or applicability:
Accuracy, Authority, Objectivity, Currency, and Coverage
If these criteria are present then you may have a high quality source in terms of both credibility and applicability that could be of value to your research. If they are not present, be wary of utilizing this source for your research.
Authority refers to the credibility of the author or institution of the source. If you want to use a source for your research, make sure the authority of that source is reliable and trustworthy. Below are some questions to ask when determining the level of a source's authority.
This article from ProQuest Central provides the author's credentials, area of expertise and educational institution affiliation:
Another way to help you evaluate your website is to determine the type of website you have found. Look at the URL. What does it say?
.com = commercial site
.edu = educational site
.gov = U.S. government site
.org = non-profit organization site (usually, but not always)
.mil = U.S. military sites and agencies
.net = networks/Internet Service Providers
Coverage refers to the level of substance and perspective found in a source's content. Make sure the source discusses your topic with the depth appropriate for your research. Find sources which discuss multiple perspectives or find multiple sources with contrasting points of view to ensure ample coverage on your topic.
Evaluate these websites and articles using the previously discussed methodology to determine if they are credible or not:
It is challenging to determine whether information from the Web is credible and can be trusted. Is it factual? Biased? Relevant to your topic?
Here is a handy acronym to help you determine if a source may be CRAP.
Accuracy refers to a source's reliability. Information such as statistics and quotes provided in a source need to be verifiable so that the reader can confirm both that the information is accurate and that the author's conclusion is reasonable. Below are some questions to ask when determining the level of a source's accuracy.
This article from the Wall Street Journal provides the source of the statistics presented in the chart and the specific data to be verified:
The information in the WND article would be very difficult to verify as the author never references the title of the study discussed throughout the article, only vaguely referring to "the study" or "the report": This does not necessarily invalidate the article, but be skeptical of a source which does not properly cite information presented.
The U.S. Dept. of Labor verifies statistics reported in the WSJ article:
Are the statistics presented in a nondeceptive manner? Sometimes statistics can be correct but still misleading, for example:
Truncated graphs provide accurate information, though in a misleading manner. For example, notice the dramatic difference from Group A and Group E in the first graph below:
But, also notice that the Y axis in that graph does not start at zero, which, if it did, would provide a more accurate comparison of these groups as in the graph below:
The same data is utilized in both graphs, but the first graph presents it in a misleading manner.
Currency refers to the timeliness of the information presented by an author. Even though you may utilize information from a credible source, if the information you choose to utilize is dated, your research may be skewed as a result, especially regarding innovations in science & technology or hot topic issues. Below are some questions to ask when determining the level of a source's currency.
This article from CQ Researcher provides current information regarding the topic of gang violence:
Objectivity is assessing to what degree does an author's bias affect how and what information is presented. A lack of objectivity can be problematic as the author may misrepresent or misinterpret information. An author's bias may also manifest itself in an omission of information of relevant or important information as well. Bias does not necessarily invalidate an author's work, but it should alert you that a counterargument source may need to be acquired to balance your research. Below are some questions to ask when determining the level of a source's objectivity or bias.
This SIRS Issues Researcher search provides a balanced discussion on the issue. This is an example of an objective assessment of a controversial topic through inclusion of various perspectives. Opinions are backed up with factual evidence, and the presentation of multiple arguments could assist in formulating a well-rounded research paper.
Below is a graph which attempts to chart the type and degree of bias found in many major news outlets.