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CNX 100 - Information Literacy Guide

Why do Credible Sources Matter?

Where? - Site/Search

Even before looking at the text of an article, you can start to evaluate a source solely on it's container. 

Questions to keep in mind:

  • Where did you find this site?  For example, does something you found through a post on social media differ in credibility from something that your professor gives you? 
  • What kind of source is it?  As you learned on the Types of Sources page, there are many different types of sources all which have specific value and credibility. Does the source type match your information need? 
  • Do you notice any kind of red flags? These red flags could be anything from a large Donate button taking center stage on the page, being bombarded by advertisements, or even misspellings. While none of these may automatically make you discount the website, they should at least put you on guard as you continue your evaluation. 

Who/What? - Author/Article

Who wrote and published the source you are evaluating has significant influence over the credibility of the information they are presenting. If the author or published lacks credibility, the source will likely lack credibility. 

Questions to keep in mind: 

  • Who is the author? Not only what are their names, but look into who they are. What makes them qualified to write on the topic you are researching? 
  • Who published the source? The publisher has control of most of the quality control mechanisms that are in place to make sure that what the author has written is fair and accurate. For example, an established newspaper will have an editorial staff that reviews all articles before they are published and an academic journal article has to go through a comprehensive peer review process before it will be published.  
  • When was the source published or last updated? Depending on the topic you are researching, the date of publication can be very important.  In fast-moving disciplines, even information published only a few years ago could already by out-of-date and contain incorrect information. 
  • Who is the intended audience? Thinking about who the source is written for will offer incite to how you could use it to help form your own arguments. 

How? - Argument

Last, but certainly not least, you need to pay attention to what the source is actually saying and how they support their arguments. 

Questions to keep in mind: 

  • Is there any evidence of bias? What words does the author use to describe the arguments? The more emotional the language the more you should pay attention to bias. Every author will have some degree of bias, but it should not be the defining characteristic of the article. 
  • How does the information presented match with what you know about the topic? While the purpose behind some publications is to share new ideas about a topic, these ideas should still generally fit in with what others know and say about the topic. If an article says something that does not make sense with what you already know about the topic, question that. Dig into the claim a bit more, what are they basing the claim on? Is that evidence credible? Knowing the evidence do you agree with their claim? 
  • What is missing from their argument? No article can include all perspectives on a topic, but paying attention to who and what are included in the conversation gives you useful information on how you could use the source, and what type of source you still need to seek out. 
  • How are they supporting their claims? Whatever type of source you use for your projects, should support their claims with evidence. Even if the author is expressing an opinion, if they are making claims, they should be basing these claims on evidence. 
  • How are they citing this evidence? Anytime they are supporting their claims with outside sources, they should tell you where the information is coming from. Depending on the type of source that you are looking at, they may not provide a full citation, but be weary of any claim made without some indication of where it is coming from.