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Evaluating Sources

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

Bias / objectivity

Scale imageIt could be argued that it is impossible to be totally value-neutral (unbiased). As such, the best that can be hoped for is that perspectives/bias be recognised.

Even significantly biased data may still be useful as long as you recognise the bias. You may need to look for resources with differing bias to get a balanced picture.

  • Is it clear whether the content comes an advertiser or from a non-commercial source?
  • What is the purpose of the resource?
  • Is it trying to inform you or sell you something?
  • Does it make reasonable statements? Or dramatic claims?
  • Do you know what bias the author or publisher has?
  • Do a search on the author/publisher to see what other resources they are associated with. Does the source provide a balanced viewpoint, or just one side of an argument?

Authority

Authority imageAre the persons responsible for the resource clearly identified?

  • Is contact information provided?
  • Are the authors recognised experts in their field?
  • Is there verifiable information about the author's credentials?
  • Is the publisher reputable and scholarly?

As you become more familiar with your subject area you will become more aware of which publishers have more authority.

For online resources i.e. websites/web pages etc…

  • Is the web page provided by an individual, a business, a government department or an educational institution?
  • Is there an "about us" page which tells you who runs the site and what its purpose is?

Accuracy

  • Target imageDo the facts fit with what you already know? Why / why not?
  • Are there cited (and verifiable) references for its information – this is just as necessary for online resources such as websites etc.
  • Does the information agree with that given by at least 2 other credible resources?
  • Does the information contradict itself?
  • Is the information complete or are there obvious gaps?
  • Do the facts provided seem too good to be true?

Currency

  • Calendar imageIs the information current and up-to-date? Does it need to be?
  • Is it clearly stated when the information was written and/or updated?
  • Is the information on the page obviously outdated?
  • Are there a lot of broken links?
  • Does the bibliography end some years ago?
  • Check with your lecturer how recent you assignment resources need to be. Many databases let you specify a date range when searching.

Utility

  • Swiss army knife imageIs the data what you really need?
  • Is it relevant to your information search?
  • Is this the best way to get the information you need?
  • Have you tried print and electronic sources available via One Search and JCU databases?
  • Google Scholar can also provide useful resources.

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