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Fake News and Information Literacy

A guide to help you be a better consumer of news.

Critical Evaluation of Information Sources

In evaluating the credibility of an information source there are several key areas to consider:

  • the Authority of the author and the background of the publisher
  • the Objectivity of the author
  • the Quality of the work
  • the Currency of the work
  • the Relevancy of the work

The tables below provide a framework for investigating these aspects of an information source, whether it be an article in a journal or newspaper or encyclopedia; a book; a web site; a government document; or any other source upon which you're relying. Not all questions will apply in all situations, and not all responses need to be positive ones - this is not a scorecard. The questions are intended to help you think critically about information sources.

Evaluation Tables

To evaluate authority:

Ask the Questions Find Answers
Who is the author?
  • Most common places to find the name of the author:
    • Title page (book or report)
    • Title information on first page (articles, book chapters)
    • End of the article (encyclopedias)
    • Top or bottom of page (web pages)
What are the author's credentials?
  • Relevant university degree
  • Institutional affiliation (where do they work?)
  • Relevant field or employment experience
  • Past writings
  • Examine the item for information about the author
  • Search the web for the author's home page
  • Search academic databases and the online catalog for other works by the author
What is the author's reputation among peers?
  • Cited in articles, books or bibliographies?
  • Mentioned in your textbook or by your professor?
  • Use indexes that track citations to find articles citing your author
Who is the publisher?
  • Commercial, trade, institutional, other?
  • Known for quality and/or scholarly publications?
  • Basic values or goals?
  • Specialization?
  • Examine the publisher's web site
  • The Writer's Market (Knight Reference Desk) will give brief descriptions of publishers and the material they seek.
Is the author associated with a reputable institution or organization?
  • What is the organization's mission?
  • What are its basic values or goals?
  • Is it national or international?
  • Who makes up its membership?
  • Examine the institution's or organization's web site

To evaluate objectivity:

Ask the Questions
Find Answers

Does the author state the goals for this publication?

Are they to inform, explain, or advocate?

Are they to sell a service or serve as a soapbox?

Skim the foreword, preface, abstract and/or introduction of the work.
Does the author exhibit a particular bias?
  • Is there a commitment to a point of view?
  • Do they acknowledge bias?
  • Are both sides of a controversial issue presented?
  • Skim the abstract and/or introduction
  • Skim the author's conclusions
  • Examine the work for:
    • Inflammatory language
    • Images or graphic styles (e.g., text in color or boldface type) to persuade you of the author's point of view
    • Author's arguments or supporting facts
    • A bibliography that does or does not include multiple points of view
Does the information appear to be valid and well-researched?
  • Are arguments and conclusions supported by evidence?
  • Are opposing points of view addressed?
  • Are authoritative sources cited?
  • Verify facts and statistics with a reliable source
  • Examine cited sources for authority and objectivity
  • FactCheck, a service of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, is useful for current topics.
   

To evaluate quality:

Ask the Questions Find Answers
Is the information well-organized?
  • Logical structure
  • Main points clearly presented
  • Text flows well (not choppy or stilted)
  • Author's argument is not repetitive
If it's a book, look at the table of contents to get an idea of the work and skim the text itself.
  • Has the author used good grammar?
  • Are there spelling or typographical errors?
 
Are the graphics (images, tables, charts, diagrams) appropriate?
  • Clearly labeled
  • Not sensational
  • Understandable without explanatory text
 
If a web page, is the information reliable? Evaluating Web Pages: Techniques to Apply & Questions to Ask (UC Berkeley)

To evaluate currency:

Ask the Questions Find Answers
When was it published?
  • Look for a publication or copyright date on the:
    • Title page (books, journals)
    • Reverse of the title page (books)
    • Cover (journals, magazines, newspapers)
    • Table of contents (journals, magazines)
    • Bottom of the page (web sites)
  • Dates on web pages may indicate:
    • When the page was created
    • When the page was published on the web
    • When the page was last revised
Is your topic one that requires current information? Topic areas requiring the most up-to-date information include:
  • Science
  • Medicine
  • Current events
Has this source been updated in a subsequent edition? Search WorldCat  for a more recent edition

To evaluate relevancy:

Ask the Questions Find Answers
   
Is the content appropriate for your research topic or assignment?
  • Is the source scholarly or popular?
  • Can you identify the format/medium (e.g., book, article, government report, web site, etc.)
  • Is the content primary, secondary, or bibliographic?
  • Primary sources include first-hand accounts of an event, diaries, photographs, etc
  • Secondary sources include books or articles that come after the event and analyze it
  • Bibliographic sources include encyclopedias and dictionaries that provide background

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Victoria Mitchell
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