Information, reliable and not so reliable, can be found everywhere—in books, videos, journals, newspapers, and the Internet, to name a few sources. How can you navigate through the information overload to find reliable information?
The answer is simple: Use your critical thinking skills to analyze and evaluate the information you find. Here are a few questions you should ask yourself every time you read anything about your topic.
Authority & Sponsorship: Who is responsible for the information?
- Who is the author or creator of the information?
- Is the “author” a person, organization, association, company, or government agency?
- What are the author’s credentials?
- Does the author have an academic degree or previous publications?
- Is the author considered an “expert” on the topic? Does his current and/or previous employment relate to the topic and give him expertise?
- Who is the publisher or distributor of the information? What kind of organization is it?
- If it is a website, what type of site is it? What domain extension does it have: .com, .gov, .edu, .org, .net, .mil., .biz, etc.?
- Go to http://whois.domaintools.com/ to find who registered for the website.
WARNING: If there is no author listed, think carefully before deciding to use the information. How reliable is it if you don’t know where it comes from? Can you find a better source for the same information?
Currency: When was the information created?
- How current is the information? Can you find the date it was published or posted? If it is today’s date, make sure that's the publish date and not an automated date?
- Can you find an updated or revised version of the work?
NOTE: Depending on your topic, you can still use old or dated information, as when you are looking for historical viewpoints or trends to compare with current ones.
Coverage & Accuracy: Where can you find more information?
- How adequately does it cover your topic? Is the information in-depth and detailed or is it shallow and basic?
- Does the author cite sources for factual statements, assertions, and second-hand information? Is there a bibliography or list of sources used? Does the list include sources with other viewpoints?
- Can you find different sources of information, such as books, websites, and periodical articles that confirm the information you found?
Objectivity: Why was this information created?
- What is the purpose of this information source? To persuade? To advocate a viewpoint? To inform? To make a sale? To ridicule something? To showcase the creator’s imagination or artwork?
- What is the perspective, point-of-view, or bias of this site? What opinions are expressed by the author?
- Who is the intended audience for this information? Who does the site want to reach--a select audience or general public?