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Evaluating Sources

A guide to evaluating the credibility of the sources of information you use in your assignments.

Maintaining sameness

Citation politics iconCitation politics is about maintaining sameness in academic research.

Caucasian, male, hetrosexual researchers are commonly cited more. Women, LGBTIQA+, people of colour and other minority researchers are cited less. Much less. This has implications for new directions of research and limits what information and ideas feed into new research outputs. Rather than broadly expanding knowledge, new research tends to be limited to a dominant demographic and worldview.

There are other implications too.

For better, or, likely, worse, citations hold sway in academia. They determine scholarly reputation. They identify whose work matters and has significance. They offer prestige in what is clearly a prestige economy. Citations matter (Baker, 2019).

The number of citations an article receives is a common measure of researcher impact. High citation counts give value to research, even if the research is flawed or fraudulent. A 1998 article with over 3,600 citations was retracted from The Lancet for fraudulent research. The article was highly cited because subsequent scholars denounced the work. Even negative citations, if high, get a high profile. The article in question resulted in the undermining of public confidence in vaccines.

Breaking the conformity cycle

Diversity icon Citation can be used to support academic freedom. 

Gender, race and religious bias will be reflected in a citation list. When looking at your citation list, ask yourself:

  • Are you including women, scholars of colour, or those from the LBGTIQA+ community?
  • Are a wide range of nations represented in your citation list?
  • Have you drawn from a wide range of journals?

Who we cite matters because citation reproduces the inequalities in our disciplines or scholarship, as well as the larger world. Our citations can affirm the white supremacist patriarchy of the academy. Or citations can function as a powerful corrective; they can counter inequality rather than maintain it (Baker, 2019).

How to look further than the usual narrow range of authors: 

  • Count your citations: How many potentially marginalised groups are represented in your citation list? You may need to search for the authors online to find out about them. If your citations are too narrowly based, take your work to the next level by swapping some out for authors that come from potentially marginalised groups.
  • Consider your research context: Are there experts from other potentially marginaled groups that you should draw upon to produce a better research outcome/output?
  • Consider quality more broadly: Don't just look at the number of citations a paper has gathered. Just because a paper isn't highly cited doesn't mean it isn't worthy of inclusion.

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