Why bother evaluating sites and sources? Because the quality of information varies tremendously, anyone can register for a site and post whatever they want, most sites don't employ fact checkers or editors. Besides, your instructor told you that you needed to use reliable and/or scholarly information for your assignment, right? Gossip blogs and sensational news can be fun to read while in line at the grocery store, but you don't want to use them to write your final paper or help you make major life decisions. This guide will help you determine a source's credibility for yourself.
.edu / .gov / .mil / .int : Educational, government, military, or international & intergovernmental sites. These are usually reliable.
.org : Tend to be advocacy sites/non-profit organizations. Often ok, watch for bias.
.com : Commercial (for profit) sites, anyone can register for a .com address. Be careful and read closely!
.me / .news / .guru / etc. : Treat these newer domains like .coms.
.net : Alternative to .com, treat similarily.
.uk / .de / etc. : Used for other countries (the UK and Germany, in this case). The quality of sites ending with a country code varies greatly, you'll have to use your other evaluation skills to help determine reliability!
1. Could this author/organization be held accountable for its content? Is there identifying/contact information?
Imagine an artist finds their work posted on a site without their permission. Would they be able to find the person in charge of running the site and ask them to take it down?
2. Who is the author?
Ideally you want a full author name and their credentials. Is the author someone with a PhD in English, but they're giving medical advice? If you can't find an author name, look for information about the organization running the site along with any sponsors. Again, think about how you could contact this source if you needed to.
3. What are their sources? Do they back their claims up with data? Can you trace their arguments back to the source? Do they acknowledge gaps in the data?
This is especially important when looking at pieces that claim to be fact, not opinion/editorials. You can usually find sources in footnotes or in a bibliography. Some sites link to their sources directly in text. Remember not only to check that the sources are there, but check their quality. An article can seem convincing, but if the evidence it draws on is untrustworthy, its conclusions will be too.
4. Is this biased? Do they give equal treatment to both sides of the argument? Is there a clear slant toward one side? Do they cherry-pick their data to only support one claim?
Some bias is inevitable but too much bias can be harmful. Another good question to ask is "Who is funding this?" Is a pharmaceutical company funding a study that proves their drugs are a cure all? Or is it a bi-partisan governmental agency evaluating the effectiveness of those drugs?
5. When was it written? Is it still relevant?
Timeliness is important. A 1998 website on climate change probably isn't reliable today. For some topics this isn't as important, but for others it's crucial.
Has your instructor asked you to find scholarly articles and you're not sure what that means? Check below for a quick overview.
NOTE: remember to check if the piece you're reading is an editorial/op-ed (meaning, opinion) or if it's a piece of journalism, based on research & facts.
A lot of us get our news when scrolling through Facebook, Twitter, or whatever social media platform you prefer. That's not a bad thing, but you've probably heard about the problem of fake news on social media.
On every social media platform there will be a spectrum of users and the quality of the information they post will vary dramatically.
It's up to you to determine if the links you click and the blogs you follow are reliable, based in fact, and able to withstand scrutiny or if they're sensational, opinion-based, fake newsers.
Fake News: Resources & Discussion
This resource from the New York Times Learning Network will help you hone your skills in a post-truth time.
It pulls together videos, articles, images, tweets, and more! Watch the video below for a taste of what it's like.