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Online Learning Guide: Evaluate Sources

An introduction to distance learning library resources and services available to support online students at HCTC.

Evaluating Information

The purpose of evaluating information is to determine the reliability of a piece of information. Thinking critically about the claims we encounter in research and in our everyday lives can help us to be more astute readers and more independent thinkers. Here are some questions to guide your evaluation of your selected sources:

  • Read the preface--what does the author want to accomplish? Browse through the table of contents and the index.This will give you an overview of the source. Is your topic covered in enough depth to be helpful? If you don't find your topic discussed, try searching for some synonyms in the index.
  • Check for a list of references or other citations that look as if they will lead you to related material that would be good sources.
  • Determine the intended audience. Are you the intended audience? Consider the tone, style, level of information, and assumptions the author makes about the reader. Are they appropriate for your needs?
  • Try to determine if the content of the source is fact, opinion, or propaganda. If you think the source is offering facts, are the sources for those facts clearly indicated?
  • Do you think there's enough evidence offered? Is the coverage comprehensive? (As you learn more and more about your topic, you will notice that this gets easier as you become more of an expert.)
  • Is the language objective or emotional?
  • Are there broad generalizations that overstate or oversimplify the matter?
  • Does the author use a good mix of primary and secondary sources for information?
  • If the source is opinion, does the author offer sound reasons for adopting that stance? (Consider again those questions about the author. Is this person reputable?)
  • Check for accuracy.
  • How timely is the source? Is the source 20 years out of date? Some information becomes dated when new research is available, but other older sources of information can be quite sound 50 or 100 years later.
  • Do some cross-checking. Can you find some of the same information given elsewhere?
  • How credible is the author? If the document is anonymous, what do you know about the organization?
  • Are there vague or sweeping generalizations that aren't backed up with evidence?
  • Are arguments very one-sided with no acknowledgement of other viewpoints? (Purdue OWL)

Evaluate Your Sources

It is important to evaluate your sources of information to find out if they are up-to-date, reliable, and unbiased.

Using quality sources can strengthen your project, and not everything in library databases or on the Web is appropriate for a project.

Now that you have found some articles, books, and Web documents related to your topic, you will need to take a deeper look and decide if your sources are the best of the best. You can print or save the Source Evaluation Worksheet located next to the blue document icon below to use as a guide.

Questionable Claims

Take a look at the sources listed below. None of them are reliable. Why not? Aside from unlikely assertions, what clues might prompt the reader to be skeptical of the author's claims?

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Save the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus: This website describes the challenges faced by an endangered cephalopod.

  

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Sokoblovsky Farms: Russia's Finest Purveyors of Petite Lap Giraffes: These curious pet suppliers claim to specialize in petite giraffes.

    

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 The Onion: America's finest news source.

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