So, why bother evaluating your sources? It
may seem like yet another thing to do – but it is important to the success of your research
paper. Publishing and distributing information can
be very easy. Many online publishing platforms are free and anonymous – so anyone with an
internet connection can potentially share their ideas as widely as the internet reaches.
And many people do so without being experts on their topics – or using editors, fact-checkers
or other forms of quality control. Since there aren’t always consequences for
publishing incorrect information, content creators – particularly on the ‘Net – don’t
always feel obligated to double-check their statements or to provide retractions if they
discover errors in their work. So, when you find a source it really is important
to evaluate the author’s expertise, the accuracy of the information presented, and
the intended purpose of the work. Anyone can be an author! Some are journalists
who don’t often have background education or experience on the topics they’re assigned.
Some are amateur enthusiasts, or activists with an agenda, and some deliberately publish
misinformation – such as you’ll find on humour or fake news sites.
An expert researcher’s credentials and affiliations will be directly relevant to the topic. Take
a moment to investigate: Are their degrees and work experience related to the subject?
If your authors are academics you can look them up in Google Scholar to see if they’ve
published other work on the topic – and if their work has been cited by other experts.
If the author is a journalist – search on the newspaper or magazine site to see what
else they’ve written. Do they have a specialized topic area or do they write on anything? Can
you find details of their education or experience? If the author is a corporation or agency – be
wary if the topic is outside its area of business. Don’t assume that because a work has been
published it’s also been checked for accuracy. Be skeptical if the author ignores other viewpoints,
makes claims that aren’t supported by data or other scholars, if the content is linked
to the advertising, is outdated, has lots of grammar or spelling errors, or if the publisher
doesn’t usually publish academic work. Finally, consider the purpose of the work.
Who’s the intended audience? Is it fellow researchers or is the work aimed at the general
public? And why was the work published? To educate? To share new research among fellow
experts in the field or was it written to entertain… to sell something … or perhaps
to whip up readers’ emotions? All of this matters! So, before you rely on
a source that looks good on the surface – take the time to make sure that its quality matches
its first impressions. In this tutorial, we’ve taken a brief look
at the importance of evaluating information sources. If you have any questions call us,
email, drop by or chat with a librarian on the provincial AskAway chat reference service.
To find our Help options go to the Help menu on the library homepage and click Ask a Librarian.