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SBSC 312: Sensation and Perception

Evaluating Sources

Evaluating your sources as you find and use them is super important in ensuring the quality of your research. Not all information and sources are created equally, hence, you have to think critically about them to conclude if they are reliable, trustworthy, and worth using. Using misinformed, sloppy, or dated information can have a huge impact on the overall quality of your paper. 

The Purdue OWL Writing Lab has some great tips for recognizing which sources are the best for your research:

Publication process
Print Sources: Traditional print sources go through an extensive publication process that includes editing and article review. The process has fact-checkers, multiple reviewers, and editors to ensure quality of publication.

Internet Sources: Anyone with a computer and access to the Internet can publish a website or electronic document. Most online documents do not have editors, fact-checkers, or other types of reviewers.

Authorship and affiliations
Print Sources: Print sources clearly indicate who the author is, what organization(s) he or she is affiliated with, and when his or her work was published.

Internet Sources: Authorship and affiliations are difficult to determine on the Internet. Some websites may have author and sponsorship listed, but many do not.

Sources and quotations
Print Sources: In most traditional publications, external sources of information and direct quotations are clearly marked and identified.

Internet Sources: Sources the author used or referred to in the text may not be clearly indicated in an Internet source.

Bias and special interests
Print Sources: While bias certainly exists in traditional publications, printing is more expensive and difficult to accomplish. Most major publishers are out to make a profit and will either not cater to special interest groups or will clearly indicate when they are catering to special interest groups.

Internet Sources: The purpose of the online text may be misleading. A website that appears to be factual may actually be persuasive and/or deceptive.

Author qualifications
Print Sources: Qualifications of an author are almost always necessary for print sources. Only qualified authors are likely to have their manuscripts accepted for publication.

Internet Sources: Even if the author and purpose of a website can be determined, the qualifications of the author are not always given.

Publication information

Print Sources: Publication information such as date of publication, publisher, author, and editor are always clearly listed in print publications.

Internet Sources: Dates of publication and timeliness of information are questionable on the Internet. Dates listed on websites could be the date posted, date updated, or a date may not be listed at all.

Questions to Ask Yourself

  • What does the author want to accomplish? 
  • Is your topic covered in enough depth to be helpful? If you don't find your topic discussed, try searching for some synonyms in the index.
  • Determine the intended audience. Are you the intended audience? Consider the tone, style, level of information, and assumptions the author makes about the reader. Are they appropriate for your needs?
  • Try to determine if the content of the source is fact, opinion, or propaganda. If you think the source is offering facts, are the sources for those facts clearly indicated?
  • Do you think there's enough evidence offered? Is the coverage comprehensive? (As you learn more and more about your topic, you will notice that this gets easier as you become more of an expert.)
  • Is the language objective or emotional?
  • Are there broad generalizations that overstate or oversimplify the matter?
  • Does the author use a good mix of primary and secondary sources for information?
  • If the source is opinion, does the author offer sound reasons for adopting that stance? (Consider again those questions about the author. Is this person reputable?)
  • Check for accuracy.
  • How timely is the source? Is the source twenty years out of date? Some information becomes dated when new research is available, but other older sources of information can be quite sound fifty or a hundred years later.
  • Do some cross-checking. Can you find some of the same information given elsewhere?
  • How credible is the author? If the document is anonymous, what do you know about the organization?
  • Are there vague or sweeping generalizations that aren't backed up with evidence?
  • Are arguments very one-sided with no acknowledgment of other viewpoints?