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Fake News and Information Literacy

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

Evaluating Your Sources

This page will help you evaluate an information source by explaining some of the key aspects you will want to analyze.

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.

Source Evaluation

Evaluate Sources

Ask 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 the first page (articles, book chapters)
  End of the article (encyclopedias)
  Top or bottom of the page (web pages)
What are the author's credentials?  
Relevant university degree Examine the item for information about the author
Institutional affiliation (where do they work?) Search the web for the author's home page
Relevant field or employment experience Search academic databases and the online catalog for other works by the author
Past writings  
What is the author's reputation among peers?  
Cited in articles, books or bibliographies? Use indexes that track citations to find articles citing your author
Mentioned in your textbook or by your professor? Try Google Scholar and enter the author's name and use the "cited by ..." link
Who is the publisher?  
Commercial, trade, institutional, other? Examine the publisher's website
Known for quality and/or scholarly publications?  
Basic values or goals?  
Is the author associated with a reputable institution or organization?  
What is the organization's mission? Examine the institution's or organization's website
What are its basic values or goals?  
Is it national or international?  
Who makes up its membership?  
Ask Questions Find Answers
Does the author state the goals for this publication? Skim the abstract and/or introduction
Are they to inform, explain, or advocate? Skim the author's conclusions
Are they to sell a service or serve as a soapbox? 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? Verify facts and statistics with a reliable source
Are opposing points of view addressed? Examine cited sources for authority and objectivity
Are authoritative sources cited? FactCheck, a service of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, is useful for current topics.
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Is the information well-organized?  
Logical structure If it is a book, look at the table of contents to get an idea of the work and skim the text itself.
The main points clearly presented  
The text flows well (not choppy or stilted)  
The author's argument is not repetitive  
Has the author used good grammar?  
Are there any spelling or typographical errors?  
If a web page, is the information reliable? Evaluating Web Pages: Techniques to Apply & Questions to Ask (UC Berkeley)
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When was it published? Look for a publication or copyright date on the:
  Title page (books, journals)
  The 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:
  Current events
Has this source been updated in a subsequent edition? Search WorldCat  for a more recent edition
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Is the content appropriate for your research topic or assignment? Primary sources include first-hand accounts of an event, diaries, photographs, etc
Is the source scholarly or popular? Secondary sources include books or articles that come after the event and analyze it
Can you identify the format/medium (e.g., book, article, government report, website, etc.) Bibliographic sources include encyclopedias and dictionaries that provide background
Is the content primary, secondary, or bibliographic?