When you are choosing a restaurant, movie, or shopping online, how often do you check out the reviews? Are you more likely to purchase a product with 5 stars or 1 star? Are you more likely to eat at or order from the restaurant with two stars or five stars? While most of us are familiar with the five-star rating system, you likely don't realize that information can be rated and reviewed too! An article getting published in a scholarly publication is comparable to getting a five-star rating, whereas a conspiracy theory website about the flat earth is likely to get 0 stars.
It doesn't matter if you can find a quality source if you aren't able to identify whether that source fits your information needs. By interpreting your assignment and taking a step back to think about your needs, you will be able to evaluate what you have found to determine its relevance to your needs.
|You need...||Look for...|
|general information||sources that provide overviews to help you gain understanding|
|opinions on a topic||sources that share points of views on a topic|
|facts to support your statements||research articles, data sources, or statistical resources|
|specific examples||first-person narratives or case studies|
|an expert's take||scholarly research articles, books, or other works written by someone who has demonstrated expertise|
|the latest information||newspapers or websites|
There are five factors you can take into account when evaluating whether or not a source is appropriate.
Works written directly by scholars in a field of study are more reliable sources of information than those written by professional journalists. You should evaluate the level of expertise the person writing the article has. If an individual author is unavailable, you can think about the organization represented by the writer and whether or not they are to be trusted.
When writing, the author has a specific audience in mind and will use words, phrases, and examples that are appropriate for that audience. It is important to recognize that as a college student you should be finding sources that are aimed toward a more scholarly audience than a general audience.
There is always a reason for something to be published, so as a student you should be thinking about why something is being shared. Is the reason to persuade you to believe one side of an argument, or are they publishing the results of a study they conducted?
The amount of information (or lack of information) can tell a lot about a source's quality. You should search for sources that have references to other sources or with information that can be verified in other places as well.
Where, when, and how something is published can provide significant insight into a source's quality. Is it published in a peer-reviewed journal or a blog? Is this information too old to be of significance or is it from the same time that a significant event took place?
As a starting point for evaluating websites, one might use the part of the web address immediately after the "dot" (for example, .com) to try to determine the reliability of the information. This part of the address (or URL) is called a "top-level domain" that someone asks to have when creating their website. The websites you most frequently visit have top-level domains, or TLDs, that likely fall into one of the following categories:
|TLD||Category||A site with this TLD can be registered by...|
|.edu||Sponsored||An accredited US-based college or university approved by EDUCAUSE|
|.gov||Sponsored||federal, state, or local governments within the US approved by an independent government agency|
|.va||Country Code||officials of the Vatican|
|.za||Country Code||mainly South African citizens and businesses, but no policy excludes others from registering|