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Mechanical Drafting Technology: Evaluate Sources

The Mechanical Drafting Technology curriculum prepares technicians to produce drawings of mechanical parts, components of mechanical systems, and mechanisms, CAD and the importance of technically correct drawings and designs based on current standards.

Introduction

Many credible sources can be found in the Library's catalog and databases, but how can you determine if the source is useful to your research? How can you determine if a web resource is credible? Before using information found on a website or through the Library for your research project, consider the following criteria to evaluate its credibility and or applicability:

Accuracy, Authority, Objectivity, and Currency

If these criteria are present then you may have a high quality source that could be of value to your research. If they are not present, be wary of utilizing this source for your research.

cartoon man holding magnifying glass to his eye

Know Your Sources

Authority

question authority written in bold white letters with black background

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.

Let us compare the authority of an article retrieved from the ProQuest Central database accessed through RCCC's A-Z Database list with an article found in the online magazine Wonkette

  • Is the author's contact information listed? If not, or if written anonymously, there is no one to hold accountable for the information provided.
  • What is the author's credentials? If not provided, be skeptical of their credibility.
  • What is the author or organization's area of expertise? Are they an authority on the topic being discussed?
  • Is the author affiliated with an accredited educational or respected research institution?

This article from ProQuest Central provides the author's credentials, area of expertise and educational institution affiliation:

snippet of an article with author's credentials highlighted


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

Currency

Currency refers to the timeliness of the information presented by an author. Even though your information is from a credible source, if the information you choose to use is dated, your research may be skewed as a result, especially regarding science, technology or hot topic issues. 

Always check for a date and if no date is available, you will need to further evaluate whether the source should be used.

Below are some questions to ask when determining the level of a source's currency.

  • Will dated information still be relevant to your research project or do you require more up-to-date information?
  • What are the dates of publication or production for various content on the website?
  • Can you determine if the website has been updated recently?

 

Coverage (Choosing the Best Sources)

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.

  • Does the source provide one or many points of view? 
  • Does the information presented possess the proper depth needed for your research question?
  • Does the resource add new information or does it simply compile information found elsewhere?
  • Would those original sources be more appropriate for use in your research? 

cartoon of person looking through one set of lenses on a set of glasses which contains five sets of lenses in total

Use the CRAP Test

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.

 

 

  • CURRENCY How recently was this information published/posted? Can you find a publication date?
  • RELIABILITYIs the information supported by evidence? Can it be confirmed by other sources?
  • AUTHORITYWho wrote the information - are they an expert or knowledgeable in their field? (i.e. For health information, did a doctor or nurse write it?)
  • PURPOSE / POINT OF VIEWWhy was it written? To sell something? To sway opinion? Is it biased toward a particular point of view?

Accuracy

Accuracy refers to a source's reliability. Information such as statistics and quotes need to be verifiable so that the reader can confirm 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. 

  • Does the author provide a source for the statistics or quotes used in an article?
  • Is the information utilized referred to specifically or in a vague manner?

Let us compare the accuracy of an article retrieved from the Wall Street Journal database accessed through RCCC's A-Z Database list with an article found in the online magazine, WND.

This article from the Wall Street Journal provides the source of the statistics presented in the chart and the specific data to be verified:

Wall Street Journal article with statistical chart noting nonfarm payrolls rose seasonally adjusted 223,000

 

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. 

WND logo

vague WND report declaring no evidence cholesterol causes heart disease

 

  • Can that statistic or quote be verified by a reliable second source?

The statistics presented in the WSJ can be easily verified through a reliable source such as the U.S. Dept. of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics

The U.S. Dept. of Labor verifies statistics reported in the WSJ article:

United States Department of Labor logo

seasonally adjusted nonfarm payroll employment statistics from U.S. Department of Labor stating increase of 223.000 jobs in May 2018

 

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: 

Truncated Bar Graph showing significant difference between groups A and E

 

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:

Bar graph showing slight differences between Groups A and E

 

The same data is utilized in both graphs, but the first graph presents it in a misleading manner. 

Objectivity

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/misinterpret information. An author's bias may also show itself in an omission of information of relevant or important information. 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.

  • Does the information appear to be fact, opinion, or propaganda?
  • Is the author sufficiently objective and un-biased for your research needs?
  • If not, what are the biases or agenda of the author and could that source be utilized as a counterargument to another source? 

Below is a graph which attempts to chart the type and degree of bias found in many major news outlets. 

Chart of publications and bias